Cougar boys will play for section basketball championship

Lakeville South forward Jack Leland goes to the basket against Owatonna in the Class 4A, Section 1 boys basketball semifinals Saturday night.

South faces Rochester Mayo on Friday

Lakeville South played in its home gymnasium for the final time Saturday night. The Cougars’ next game will be in a hornets’ nest.

An 80-66 victory over Owatonna sent the South boys basketball team to a section final for the first time since 2011. The Cougars’ next assignment: playing in Rochester against a Rochester Mayo team that has gone even longer without having an opportunity to play for a state tournament berth. That game, which will be for the Class 4A, Section 1 championship, is 6 p.m. Friday at Mayo Civic Arena.

Because of attendance restrictions prompted by the COVID-19 virus outbreak, only a limited number of spectators will be admitted.

The winner will be the first team other than Lakeville North to represent the section at the state tournament in nine years. Lakeville North was transferred to Section 3 this year.

Nobody on the South roster has played in a section final before. But several have been in big games, notably Reid Patterson and Riley Mahlman, key players on Lakeville South football teams that reached the state semifinals the last two years.

“Big games matter,” South coach Joe Janquart said. “It’s that mental edge in everything they do, and these guys have it. They live for the lights, live for the crowds. It’s really fun for them.”

The Cougars (21-7), who are trying to reach state for the first time in nine years, know what they’re dealing with. Rochester Mayo hasn’t been in a section final or state tournament since 2008. The Spartans (22-6) figure to have a decided hometown advantage. They also have two Division I-bound players – twins Mason and Gabe Madsen, who have signed with Cincinnati. The Madsens, whose father Luke is the Mayo coach, combined for 40 points in their team’s 74-57 section semifinal victory over Rochester Century on Saturday.

“We know Mayo pretty well,” Janquart said. “The Madsen kids are two Division I players. They have some other kids who are much improved. We know we have a heck of a game on our hands this week. We’re excited for the opportunity, though.”

The Cougars didn’t close their regular season the way they would have liked, losing four of their last six to drop out of contention for the South Suburban Conference championship. But they’ve won their last three (including the regular-season finale) and appear to have pulled out of the skid.

Saturday, the top-seeded Cougars held a two-point halftime lead before pulling away from fourth-seeded Owatonna (17-11) in the second half.

“We weren’t too happy with what we did defensively in the first half,” Janquart said. “We picked up our defense, and our defense generated a lot of our offense.”

Sophomore forward Avery Mast led a balanced Cougars offense with 19 points. Mahlman, a forward, and Patterson, a guard, had 16 each. Senior forward Jack Leland had 15 and sophomore guard Sam Fliehe added 10.

“We have a lot of confident guys out there that can knock down some shots,” Janquart said. “We can play a lot of different ways. We’re a bit of a throwback in that we can play a lot of inside-out. You don’t see that in high school basketball too often. When we have some weapons underneath, it collapses the defense and allows some movement on the perimeter.”

Patterson, the point guard, also is the Cougars’ leading scorer with a 17.1 average. But if other Cougars are scoring, Janquart said, it allows Patterson to take advantage of opportunities as they present themselves without having to force the issue.

The Lakeville South-Rochester Mayo winner plays in the state Class 4A quarterfinals March 18 at the Target Center.

The Cougars aren’t ready to be done with the season, their coach said.

“They have a lot of character and they all bring something a little bit different to our team,” Janquart said. “That makes coming to practice really easy and everything we do in our program enjoyable and fun.”

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