Pick up the Slack: Early high school playoff previews
By PATRICK SLACK
With roughly one month left in the regular season for most area teams, here are a look at some of the potential section match-ups for several of the area’s top teams looking at trying to make a run at state.
Little Falls (11-2)
The Flyers dropped their first game of the year against Section 8AAA opponent Fergus Falls, but have since won 11 of 12, moving into the top 10 in the Class AAA rankings.
Little Falls recently defeated Thief River Falls, the team tied for the top spot in the North Sub-Section, 86-68.
The Flyers will get a crack at fellow South Sub-Section opponents Sauk Rapids-Rice tonight and Alexandria next Tuesday.
Little Falls, 11-2
Detroit Lakes, 9-3
Thief River Falls, 10-4
Fergus Falls, 7-9
Sauk Rapids-Rice, 7-10
The Pioneers have won seven in a row but looming ahead in any postseason scenario is Litchfield, which defeated Pierz 84-44, Dec. 29.
The Pioneers sit right near the top of the North Sub-Section along with Long Prairie-Grey Eagle (14-1), Melrose Area (11-3) and Sauk Centre (8-5).
Long Prairie-Grey Eagle, 14-1
Morris Area, 10-3
Melrose Area, 11-4
Sauk Centre, 8-5
Upsala (10-4) and Royalton (8-6)
Upsala started the year dropping four of its first six games, but has rattled off eight wins in a row since.
One of those early-season losses came against Browerville, a 64-35 loss back on Dec. 12.
Its most recent win came Friday night, a 76-42 victory over Royalton.
The Royals, however, are the only team to have beaten Browerville this year, topping the Tigers 60-56, Jan. 6.
While fifth-ranked Browerville appears to be the current favorite, both Upsala and Royalton have demonstrated the ability to make a deep playoff run.
Eagle Valley, 8-5
Little Falls (9-8)
The Flyers have had a strong season to date, but have four of the top 10 teams in the most recent QRF rankings standing in their way in Section 8AAA, including top-ranked and 18-0 Fergus Falls.
Fergus Falls, 18-0
Thief River Falls, 15-2
Detroit Lakes, 11-3
Sartell-St. Stephen, 9-6
East Grand Forks, 9-7
Little Falls, 9-8
The start of Central Minnesota Conference play has coincided with a surge in Pierz’ play, leading the Pioneers to second in the CMC.
Much like Little Falls, though, Pierz will have to overcome a very difficult and deep section in 6AA.
New London-Spicer, 13-3
Sauk Centre, 13-3
Eden Valley-Watkins, 11-3
Melrose Area, 9-6
Paynesville Area, 8-6
Long Prairie-Grey Eagle, 7-6
The Cardinals have established themselves as the current 5A favorite, with 12 wins and their only loss coming against the second-ranked team in Class AA, Staples-Motley.
Upsala already owns wins over the teams with the top two records in the East Sub-Section, Isle and Pine River-Backus.
On Friday, the Cardinals will face off against 14-3 Sebeka in a West Sub-Section match-up.
Another game to watch for will be Upsala’s regular season finale, pitting the Cardinals against top-ranked and undefeated Parkers Prairie, Feb. 27.
Pine River-Backus, 10-4
Little Falls (10-4)
The Flyers have beaten all five Section 8AAA teams they have faced this year, including arguably their toughest competition in St. Cloud Apollo and Brainerd-Pillager.
The return of 10th-ranked 285-pound junior Conor Swanson to the line-up at the beginning of the month should only help as the Flyers try to secure a state bid.
Little Falls, 10-4
St. Cloud Apollo, 9-5
St. Cloud Tech, 8-9
Pierz (17-3) and Holdingford (15-1)
These two teams have put together dominant regular season and are the top-ranked squads in Section 7A.
A potential section final preview will be offered in Holdingford, Feb. 3, two weeks prior to the section tournament.
Both teams have already earned wins over potential challengers Aitkin and Royalton-Upsala.
Mille Lacs Area, 5-6
Minneapolis Henry, 7-9
Little Falls (13-6)
Ten wins in a row have put the Flyers at the top of the list of Section 6A contenders.
Little Falls’ next two games should reveal if it will stay there, as the Flyers host Fergus Falls, Friday, and Alexandria next Tuesday.
Little Falls defeated Fergus Falls 4-2, Dec. 8, but fell 4-3 in overtime at Alexandria, Dec. 15, after giving up a 3-0 lead.
Little Falls, 13-6
Prairie Centre Area, 10-7
Fergus Falls, 8-6-1