WAPAKONETA — It turned into a physical tug-of-war. Each shot and rebound was heavily contested.
St. Henry had the slight edge in power and was able to notch a 48-41 victory over Minster in a Division IV district semifinal on Tuesday at Wapakoneta High School.
St. Henry (21-3) advances to meet its second-straight Midwest Athletic Conference opponent Marion Local (17-7) at 7 p.m. on Friday at Wapakoneta. In the second district semifinal game of the night, Marion Local pulled away from Lima Perry at the end, 48-35.
Minster ends its season 16-8.
St. Henry was led by 6-foot-6 senior Caden Niekamp, who had 16 points and nine rebounds. Guard Zach Niekamp added 12 points and two 3-pointers. Jay Knapke had five points, 10 rebounds and had four key points in the final quarter.
Minster’s 6-9 senior Jarod Schulze had 15 points, nine rebounds and four blocks. Jack Heitbrink had nine points and six rebounds. Cody Frericks had four points and 11 boards.
St. Henry led by 10, 30-20, at the 2:56 mark of the third quarter.
Minster battled back to get within 33-28 after three. The Wildcats got within one, at 37-36 and finally at 40-39 with 2:14 left.
“We got it within one, then we missed a few assignments on defense,” Minster coach Michael McClurg said.
Knapke hit a putback and Ben Evers hit a 10-footer to push the St. Henry lead to 44-39 with 1:12 to go.
Caden Niekamp, who got in second-half foul trouble, left the game with an ankle injury with 1:02 left and the Redskins leading 44-41.
St. Henry finished it off when Knapke and Ethan Thieman both hit 2 of 2 at the foul line to make it 48-41 in the final seconds.
Minster won the boards, 40-34.
“You have to credit St. Henry and how they well they guard,” McClurg said. “They’re not an easy team to get shots off on. They know how to use their body. And give our guys credit, too, how we battled in the second half.’’
Minster shot only 29 percent from the field and 4-of-13 on 3s. St. Henry shot 26 percent from the field and 3-of-15 on 3s.
Both teams knew each other well and seemed to know exactly what the other team was running.
A big part of that was St. Henry edged Minster 54-52 on Feb. 15.
The first quarter looked like Round 1 of a battle royal, with each team missing shots and ramming each other for the rebound.
St. Henry led 10-8 after the first quarter, but the Redskins shot just 4 of 14 from the field. Minster hit 1 of 12 in the opening quarter.
It was a battle of big men, with Schulze taking on Caden Niekamp.
St. Henry established Caden Niekamp in the second quarter down low. That helped the Redskins kick out on a 7-0 spurt to take a 12-11 lead and push it into a 19-11 advantage with 2:51 before the half. During that key run, Caden Niekamp hit a 5-footer, a layup and a foul shot.
St. Henry took that momentum into a 21-12 halftime lead.
At the half, Caden Niekamp had nine points and eight boards. Schulze had five points and three rebounds at halftime.
St. Henry coach Eric Rosenbeck credited his team weight program for its power approach.
“We talked about getting up doing those workouts throughout the year and how it would pay dividends and did tonight. You had to be mentally tough and we were tonight,” Rosenbeck said. “Jay Knapke was relentless and there were all sort of guys stepping up. Zach Niekamp had a big second half. Caden (Niekamp) hit a big three before he got hurt.’’
Added McClurg, “They were so physical. We put some new plays in this week, but they jump in front of you and won’t let you make a clean cut. They make it hard to score.”