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Eric Peterson, Published March 15 2012

Detroit Lakes clinches first boys hoops state tourney berth since 1918

MOORHEAD – Joe Mollberg wasn’t going to let the Detroit Lakes’ state tournament drought get any closer to the century mark.

The Lakers senior drained two foul shots with nine seconds remaining Thursday at Alex Nemzek Fieldhouse. Those points helped clinch the Lakers’ 44-41 victory against Fergus Falls for the Minnesota Class 3A, Section 8 boys basketball championship.

The Lakers (22-7) earned their first spot in the state tournament since 1918, ending a 94-year absence.

“We finally got it done,” said Mollberg, who finished with a team-high 13 points. “Detroit Lakes has been more of a football school and it feels pretty good to leave our legacy as a basketball team now.”

Thursday’s game at times seemed as physical as football. A scramble for a loose ball late in the second half left one Fergus Falls with a cut above his forehead that forced him to leave the game because he was bleeding.

“There were times tonight where we could have crushed and folded under pressure and we had a bunch of seniors step up and hit free throws and it was the difference in the game,” said Detroit Lakes head coach Robb Flint. “I don’t care how ugly it was I will take it any way I can get it.”

Fergus Falls (17-12) had its six-game winning streak snapped and saw its season end. Counting the section championship game, the Otters were 12-3 over their last 15 games. All three of those losses were to teams that are headed to the state tournament.

“There was never any quit in us. They totally thought we were going to win that thing down the stretch even though we were behind,” said Fergus Falls head coach Dave Rund. “The guys worked hard every night. I appreciate their effort.”

The Otters sliced the Detroit Lakes lead to 42-41 after sophomore forward Austin Rund drained a

3-pointer from the left wing with 11 seconds remaining. Fergus Falls then fouled Mollberg with 9 seconds on the clock, sending the 6-foot-3 guard to the foul line to shoot the bonus. Mollberg sank both free throws to give his team a 44-41 lead.

“He’s been probably our best varsity basketball player since he was a ninth-grader,” Flint said of Mollberg. “I was just really happy to have that moment. He was the guy we wanted at the line and he knocked them down.”

The Otters got off an off-balance, contested 3-pointer from the left wing that was off the mark as time expired. Detroit Lakes fans stormed the court after the final buzzer to celebrate the historical victory.

“I was almost in disbelief,” Flint said. “I was standing here by myself and everyone was on the floor, it was almost a surreal moment.”

Mollberg soaked in the moment after the buzzer sounded.

“It was total chaos,” he said. “I was waiting for this day for a long time and we finally did it. I can’t explain it right now. I still can’t believe it.”

Fergus Falls junior Mike Millard gave his team to a 27-25 lead after scoring off a rebound with 12, minutes 53 seconds to play in the second half. Lakers junior Derek Long countered with a 3-pointer from the right wing that gave Detroit Lakes a 28-27 lead with 11:55 to play. The Lakers didn’t trail from that point, leading by as many as seven points in the final 11 minutes.

A 6-foot-2 forward, Millard scored a game-high 17 points, including 11 in the second half.

“DL is a great team,” Dave Rund said. “They made the plays when they had to. They definitely deserve to go on and they’ll represent us well down there.”

FERGUS FALLS (17-12): Millard 7 3-4 17, McAllister 0 0-0 0, Rund 2 2-2 8, Rengel 3 0-0 7, Suek 0 0-0 0, Johnson 2 1-1 5, Anderson 2 0-0 4. Totals 16 6-7 41.

DETROIT LAKES (22-7): McLeod 4 1-2 11, Mollberg 4 3-4 13, Hutchinson 3 1-2 8, Labat 1 2-2 4, Long 3 0-0 8, Morgan 0 0-0 0, Singer 0 0-0 0. Totals 15 7-10 44.

Half: DL 22, FF 22. 3-point goals: Rund 2, Rengel, McLeod 2, Mollberg 2, Hutchison, Long 2. Total fouls: FF 11, DL 10. Rebounds: FF 30 (Rengel 8), DL 20 (Labat). Turnovers: FF 15, DL 13.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Eric Peterson at (701) 241-5513.