CHIPPEWA FALLS — Eion Kressin was thinking about his grandmother as he took the court for Saturday’s sectional final at Chippewa Falls High School.
She was the one who instilled in him a love for basketball. It was on the eight-foot hoop in her barn driveway that he first began playing ball. She had always been there for him, after school to help with homework and even when she couldn’t go to his games because she was too weak, she was there watching online to see what her grandson could do.
And just days after her passing on Tuesday, Kressin says his grandmother, MaryAnn Kressin, was still there with him, on the court and helping to lift the McDonell Macks to their fourth straight state appearance with a 65-56 victory over the Luck Cardinals.
“I wanted to go out and keep winning for my grandma,” Kressin said. “It definitely gave me an extra push to keep going.”
The Macks’ big man scored the first two buckets, but foul trouble early in the first half had him stapled to the bench for most of the frame.
With Kressin out, the Cardinals took advantage. Junior guard Gage Johansen connected for four 3-pointers in the first half, including a buzzer beater to give the Luck a 31-26 lead going into halftime.
“We didn’t have the gritty defense feel,” senior Cory Hoglund said of his team’s first half performance. “Coach told us at halftime that if we don’t want to play anymore, we can come out and play like that again… and none of us wanted that, so we dug deep and got some momentum.”
Everything changed after halftime. The Macks came out firing and strung together a 22-6 run to reclaim the lead. It was a lead they never relinquished.
After a four-point first half, Kressin dominated in the second, adding 11 points to help put away the Cardinals.
“If we need a bucket we can count on him,” Hoglund said. “Not many teams around here or anywhere in the state have a guy who can compete with him in the post.”
Kressin said he was thinking about his grandmother at halftime and how much she would have wanted to see a Mack victory. He says those memories helped inspire his strong second half performance.
“She would be so proud of how well he played,” Kressin’s mother, Michele, said.
With their tickets punched to Madison, the Kressin family can now lay MaryAnn to rest. They had pushed back the funeral until after sectionals in order to avoid any potential game-time conflict.
“She would be so mad if we had to arrange the funeral and (Eion) had to miss any games,” Michele said.
The victory marked the fourth state appearance for McDonell’s seniors.
“To be able to go there for four years is unheard of,” Charlie Bleskachek said. “It’s just crazy to be part of such a successful program.”
Hoglund, still relishing in his team’s success, said there is no better feeling than making it to state.
“Those years, especially the first two, I was just a role player,” Hoglund said. “But to be one of the guys that everyone looks up to, it’s amazing.”
Hoglund finished the game with 19 points. JD Bohaty added 13 and Jaebin Bourget scored 12.
Johansen scored 30 points and hit six 3-pointers for Luck.
The Macks’ first opponent in Madison will be decided on Sunday when the four remaining teams are seeded. McDonell made it to the championship game last season but fell to Bangor, 91-67.
McDonell 65, Luck 56
McDonell: Efe Selvitopu 4, Cory Hoglund 19, JD Bohaty 13, Jaebin Bourget 12, Eion Kressin 15, Charlie Bleskachek 2
Luck: Carsen Eley 5, Gage Johansen 30, Wyatt Jensen 5, Levi Jensen 15, Riley Runnels 2
3-pointers: McDonell 7, (Bohaty 3, Hoglund 2, Bourget 2) Luck 8, (Johansen 6, L. Jensen, Eley)
Halftime Score: Luck 31, McDonell 26