HUDSON — A glance at the history book shows a five-win season two years ago for the Osseo-Fairchild boys basketball team.
Ask any of the Thunder on Sunday, and two years might as well have been an eternity ago.
Osseo-Fairchild put the stamp on a program turnaround with a thrilling 80-73 win over Clear Lake in the Division 4 sectional finals at Hudson, sending the Thunder to the state tournament for the first time in 27 years.
“A lot of hard work went into that moment, and I can’t think of a group of kids who deserve it more than these kids,” Osseo-Fairchild coach Tim Popple said. “They’ve been working for this since they were little kids. You dream about a moment like this for them.”
The Thunder held an 18-point lead midway through the second half against Clear Lake, the defending sectional champion. But a furious rally from the Warriors that saw them score 26 of the game’s next 37 points brought that lead down to two points at 66-64 with 2:37 left.
No problem for Osseo-Fairchild.
Ryan Myhers made a pair of uncontested layups, and Logan Mulhern connected on two free throws and a layup of his own for a quick 8-0 run to give the Thunder the cushion they needed to punch a ticket to Madison.
A minute later, Caden Boettcher made it official by icing the game away with two free throws in the final five seconds. As the last went through the hoop, he turned away from the basket with arms raised and a knowing, triumphant look on his face.
The Thunder were back.
“Twenty-seven years of history in this town where they’re waiting to go back to Madison, and we’re the group to do it,” Boettcher said. “Can’t be prouder of my guys.”
It wasn’t easy to knock off the Warriors, although at times the game looked like it might evolve into a blowout.
The Thunder were lethal with their inside-out game late in the first half and early in the second. If Clear Lake committed to guarding the 3, Mulhern would make them pay off the dribble-drive or big man Cory Myhers would find an easy look in the paint. If the Warriors decided to pack it in, Boettcher, Ryan Myhers and Alex Watenphul were there to drain a 3-pointer.
That kind of versatility helped Osseo-Fairchild run out to a 36-20 lead late in the first half, as Ryan Myhers and Boettcher hit back-to-back 3s to put the Thunder up 16.
But Clear Lake, like it did almost all afternoon, had an answer. The Warriors closed the half on a 7-0 run to make it 36-27 at the break.
The Thunder made another push coming out of halftime, opening with a 15-6 run featuring two 3-pointers from Boettcher and one from Watenphul.
“Before the game, we know we were going to have to shoot. They’ve got big, strong players,” said Boettcher, who hit four 3-pointers and finished with 17 points.
But Osseo-Fairchild started to cool off right as Bailey Blanchard and the Warriors were getting hot. Blanchard – who scored 20 points – knocked down four 3-pointers in a three-minute span as part of Clear Lake’s 26-11 run to get back into the game.
In the end, the Thunder just had more left in the tank than their opponent.
“We knew they were coming. Bailey can shoot a basketball like very few kids can, and they’ve got a will to win like very few teams have,” Popple said. “We talked about keeping our composure, and when it came back to the bottom side for them, that’s when we’ve got to pour the gas on.”
And that’s exactly what the Thunder did, with the 8-0 run serving as a sectional title clincher.
“It feels great. It’s something that we’ve been working for forever, since like third grade,” Cory Myhers said. “It’s all we wanted.”
Six-foot-five Cory Myhers faced the unenviable task of going toe-to-toe with Clear Lake’s bigs inside in a game that was physical all afternoon. But he corralled his fair share of rebounds and created space on offense by drawing double and triple-teams. He finished with 10 points.
“It was a lot more bigs than I’m used to, so it was a challenge to get the ball,” he said. “But you’ve just got to keep working.”
Mulhern scored a game-high 29 points for the Thunder. Ryan Myhers added 13 and Watenphul scored 11.
Osseo-Fairchild is the No. 3 seed at the Division 4 state tournament and will face second-seeded Lourdes Academy in the semifinals at 8:15 p.m. on Thursday at the Kohl Center.
Osseo-Fairchild 80, Clear Lake 73
Osseo-Fairchild: Logan Mulhern 29, Caden Boettcher 17, Ryan Myhers 13, Alex Watenphul 11, Cory Myhers 10.
Clear Lake: Bailey Blanchard 20, Kincaid Hughes 6, Tyson Blanchard 12, Riley Peterson 12, Marshall Cain 18, Bryce Hacker 2, Croix Hughes 3.
3-pointers: Osseo-Fairchild 8 (Boettcher 4, Watenphul 3, R. Myhers 1), Clear Lake 11 (B. Blanchard 5, K. Hughes, Cain 3, T. Blanchard, C. Hughes).
Halftime: Osseo-Fairchild 36-27.