OSSEO — Being one of six brothers can have its disadvantages at times, but it can also provide some advantages in the areas of athletic skills, toughness and confidence.
Wayzata junior Jacob Beeninga utilized those advantages from competing against older brothers Will and Johnny to the tune of 30 points in Wayzata’s somewhat shocking 63-61 victory over Hopkins in the section 6AAAA championship game on Wednesday, March 14.
“I think that’s benefitted me the most — having Johnny and Will and going against them — you kind of learn how to play, and I think it shows out here on the court,” Beeninga said.
The Trojans brought a respectable 17-11 record into the section final but were still considered major underdogs against the 26-1 Royals. Hopkins had won 26 straight games after losing their season opener to Cretin-Derham Hall all the way back on Dec. 2. They had also beaten the Trojans twice during the regular season, including a lopsided 26-point victory on Feb. 16.
“We knew they had won 26 in a row, but we really believed in our room that we could beat them,” Beeninga said. “You can call it what you want, but we believed the whole time that we could win and don’t view this as an upset. We think we’re just getting started.”
It was Hopkins that got off to a good start in the first half of Wednesday’s game as they scored the first six points and eventually stretched their lead out to 26-15 with about seven minutes remaining in the first half.
That’s when the Trojans and Beeninga caught fire from behind the 3-point line to change the momentum of the game. The Trojans finished the half on a 19-5 run as they made seven of their last nine shots in the first half.
Beeninga’s ability to create his own shot from the perimeter despite his unassuming 5-foot, 10-inch, 145-pound frame, was key to the Trojans’ comeback. He scored 11 points in a three-and-a-half minute span including three 3-pointers.
“Jacob’s a stud. He looks like he should be doing cross country, but he’s an absolute stud,” Trojans head coach Bryan Schnettler said. “He’s probably the most confident kid I’ve ever coached. I want him to play with a chip on his shoulder like he’s the best player in the gym, and he’s taken that to heart, and he’s proven that he is a lot of nights.”
Beeninga started the second half by draining another 3-pointer and the Trojans built a 41-32 lead early in the second half. The Royals countered with a 9-0 run to tie things up at 41, and neither team led by more than six after that point.
With the Trojans leading 48-45 with under seven minutes to play, the Trojans got crucial contributions from their role players to protect the lead.
Freshman Kody Williams hit a corner 3-pointer, while senior Tanner Jonas and junior Luke Paulson both made tough lay-ups for a 55-49 Wayzata lead with three minutes to play.
In the final minute and a half, the Trojans were forced to take care of the basketball against full-court pressure and make free throws to seal the victory. There was no better player on the court to accomplish those two tasks than Beeninga.
The Minnesota State Moorhead recruit, who scored his 1,000th point in the victory, calmly stepped to the line and made six straight free throws. Junior Keaton Heide also made a pair of clutch free throws down the stretch after Hopkins had cut the Wayzata lead to one with 23 seconds remaining.
The Trojans finished the game a perfect 13-of-13 from the free throw line, while the Royals left some points at the charity stripe by going 13-of-21.
Beeninga finished the game 7-of-19 from the floor and 11-of-11 from the free throw line. Senior Drew Galinson added 12 points, while Heide, Paulson and Williams chipped in with five points apiece. Sophomore forward Kerwin Walton led Hopkins with 18 points.
The Trojans made 10 3-pointers as a team, which was a crucial part of the victory given Hopkins’ significant size advantage in the paint with 7-foot center Joe Hedstrom and 6-foot, 10-inch forward Zeke Nnaji.
“We started to move the ball better, and we started to make shots,” Schnettler said. “Obviously when you can shoot it, you’ve got a chance. I thought we did a really good job on the boards and did a pretty good job of taking away any really easy post looks for them.”
In 2017, the Trojans made their first state tournament appearance in 58 years. Now, the program is headed back to Target Center for the second straight season.
“Last year we were saying it’s the first time since 1959, and now we can say it’s the first time since 2017,” Beeninga said. “We’re just excited to keep it rolling.”
The Trojans were scheduled to open the state tournament at 10 a.m. Wednesday, March 21, against the No. 1 seed Cretin-Derham Hall (27-2). Win or lose, the Trojans will face either the No. 4 seed Eden Prairie or the No. 5 seed Osseo on Thursday, March 22, in the semifinals or the consolation bracket. The state championship game is scheduled for 8 p.m. on Saturday, March 24, at Target Center.