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Boys basketball: Irish put up a fight

Rosemount guard Evan Mitchell dribbles around an Apple Valley defender during Saturday's section semifinal game in Northfield. The Irish fell, 67-59.1 / 2
Alex Timmers pushes towards the net.2 / 2

All season long, Rosemount boys basketball coach Bryan Schnettler has pleaded with his team to be "tougher" with the basketball. He said turnovers were a key to the team's disappointing results.

One quality Schnettler never worried about was the Irish's mental toughness.

Rosemount was tougher with the ball in the Class 4A, Section 3 tournament. The players' mental toughness was on display as well.

Seeded No. 7 after a 6-20 regular season, the Irish beat No. 2 seed Eagan 60-59 last week and took No. 3 seed Apple Valley to the wire in a 67-59 loss on Saturday in the section semifinals at St. Olaf College.

Rosemount trailed by double digits in both games against the higher seeds, but rallied to pull close late.

"All year long there have been enough reasons to give up and bag it, and they never did," Schnettler said. "I'm very proud of them for doing that. We did not shoot the ball well as we would like on Saturday. We only had seven turnovers. They played hard.

"Shots didn't fall. That will happen some nights. Too bad it happened when it did."

The Irish stayed focused on the road at Eagan last week, pulling out the win on a jump shot by Evan Mitchell with 4.6 seconds remaining. It was Rosemount's first lead against the Wildcats since the opening minutes.

Against Apple Valley on Saturday, the Irish again found themselves trailing early and the Eagles eventually led 38-28 at halftime.

"Guys were nervous in the locker room," Schnettler said. "They've played in a state championship in football, but it was the biggest basketball game they've played in. A couple of them told me they were more nervous last week than in the football state tournament. In basketball, everyone sees you. You can't hide. It's a little different.

"It was a good experience for the returning guys and for the five seniors graduating, they could enjoy it."

After taking a lead they wouldn't relinquish in the first five minutes of the game, Apple Valley extended the lead to 14 points at one time, but the Irish weren't finished.

Rosemount lost 66-64 against the Eagles in the regular-season finale. The Irish knew they could give Apple Valley a challenge.

In the second half, Rosemount cut the deficit. Brandon Forcier twice hit shots to pull the Irish within three points. Mitchell later brought Rosemount back within three points with a lay-up.

Forcier then closed the gap to 61-59 after converting a lay-up with 48.5 seconds left.

However, the Eagles finished the game from the free-throw line.

"We kept battling back," Schnettler said. "This is a resilient bunch. They kept fighting all year with a lot of stuff we went through. We lost a lot of close games, but they never quit. The reward was beating Eagan on Tuesday. We missed some chances on Saturday."

Matt Nelson led the Irish with 13 points. He added six rebounds and three steals.

Forcier and Mitchell each finished with 11 points. Andrew Nelson had nine points and a team-high seven rebounds.

After averaging almost 20 turnovers a game during the regular season, Rosemount improved in the section tournament. The Irish had 12 turnovers against Eagan and just seven against Apple Valley, their second lowest mark of the season.

"They have one guy going Division I and another that will," Schnettler said of the Eagles. "They're good. They have good shooters. They have a chance to make a little run if they get by Lakeville South. I was proud of the way the guys stuck with it. It was a rough season at times. With the way it ended, I hope they are proud of what they ended up accomplishing."

Lakeville South, seeded No. 4, beat Eastview and will face Apple Valley in the section finals.