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Observations from the 17th annual WI vs. MN Border Battle

01/22/2024, 5:15pm CST
By Mark Miller

Benilde-St. Margaret's High School in St. Louis Park, Minn., turned into a "House of Horrors" for seven of the eight Wisconsin teams that competed in the 17th annual Wisconsin vs. Minnesota Border Battle Saturday.

Seven powerhouse programs from Minnesota ran roughshod over the Wisconsin teams until Homestead saved face a bit for the Badger State with a win over the host school in the eighth and final game of the day. 

Minnesota notched convincing victories in seven-of-the-eight contests as the talent level for most of the competing Gopher State teams was off the charts. 

Here are some observations from the Border Battle, which is annually sponsored by the Wisconsin Basketball Yearbook and Breakdown Sports USA:

Isaiah Kastern

Game One
Cherry 90, Solon Springs 71

*** Cherry, located near Duluth, is extremely talented and ranked No. 1 in Minnesota's Class 1A by The Breakdown. They are led by University of Minnesota recruit Isaac Asuma, a skilled and smooth 6-foot-3 guard. After racing to a 46-26 lead at intermission, Cherry increased its advantage to 62-31 with 14:15 left. However, Solon Springs, the top-ranked Division 5 team in Wisconsin, didn't quit and came back with a vengeance behind its two ace players, senior forward Isaiah Kastern and senior guard Dylan Taggert. The Eagles went on an impressive 23-6 run to reduce the margin to 68-54, but Cherry regrouped and righted the ship to get its 13th win in 15 outings. 
*** Kastern finished with a game-high 24 points and used his outstanding jumping ability to also haul down 13 rebounds. His post-up game in the lane was difficult to stop since he gets off the floor so well and has stellar strength. The Bemidji State recruit is averaging 28.6 points and 9.4 rebounds while helping the Eagles to a 12-2 record under coach Marcus Besonen. 
*** Taggert struggled times in the first half as Cherry had more size and equal quickness in its backcourt. But the veteran shooting standout got it going big time in the second 18 minutes, scoring 18 of his 20 points and dropping four three-point baskets. Senior Owen Smith (6-0) also had a strong outing for Solon Springs, scoring 14 points and connecting on a pair of three-point shots. 

Wisconsin Player of the Game
Isaiah Kastern, 6-5, Sr., F

Kastern was a workhorse for Solon Springs, playing virtually the entire game while running the floor exceptionally well and using his size/strength to bump and grind in the post. His 24/13 performance was impressive, but his consistent effort and leadership might have been equally important for a Solon Springs squad that competes in the Northern Lights Conference and rarely sees the type of athleticism and quickness Cherry brings to the court. The explosive forward had a couple of dunks, knocked down a triple and got to the foul line for the Eagles, who fell to 12-2 on the season, but still maintain a two-game lead over second-place Drummond and Washburn in the league standings.

Mike Bowen Jr.

Game Two
Breck 94, Heritage Christian 64

*** Breck, led by University of Wisconsin recruit Daniel Freitag, was simply too much for Heritage Christian to handle. Breck, undefeated and ranked No. 1 among Class 2A schools by The Breakdown, raced out to a 49-24 lead at halftime and cruised to a 94-64 victory. Freitag, a very strong and extremely athletic 6-foot-3 combination guard, scored 22 points, grabbed seven rebounds and had 10 assists for Breck. He played at Jefferson High School in Bloomington for his first three years of high school before transferring to Breck for his senior season.
*** Heritage Christian slipped to 10-3 after finishing 25-3 a year ago and losing to Fall River in a WIAA Division 5 sectional final. The Patriots moved up to Division 4 this season and still figure to be a formidable opponent come playoff time. Coach DeMonte Bynum challenged his squad with a tough non-league schedule and competing against the likes of Breck should help Heritage Christian once the post season gets underway.
*** Three of Heritage Christian's seniors have surpassed 1,000 career points with Desmond Jones (6-4) recently joining Mike Bowen Jr. (6-2) and Alex Trotter (5-11) in the exclusive club. Few, if any, teams in the state can boast three 1,000-point scorers on the same roster. 

Wisconsin Player of the Game
Mike Bowen Jr., 6-2, Sr., F

Like Kastern, Bowen plays with high energy and a motor that won't quit. His activity on both ends of the court made things a tad difficult for Breck. Bowen finished well around the basket and continually earned trips to the foul line. He finished with 22 points and 10 rebounds to lead the Patriots. Bowen is averaging 19.2 points and 8.0 rebounds, and his ability to use his lateral quickness, size, length and aggressiveness on defense are big assets for Heritage Christian. 

Preston Johnson

Game Three
Edina 84, River Falls 63

*** Coming off a 74-70 loss to Wayzata just a day earlier, Edina came in poised to gain a victory after such a narrow loss to the state's top-ranked Class 4A school. Edina played superb man-to-man defense and raced out to a 41-30 lead at intermission and then shut down River Falls' top scorer, senior Joey Butz, in the second half to notch an 84-63 victory. Senior Josiah Coleman (6-3) finished with 25 points and four three-point baskets to lead Edina. 
*** Butz had three triples and 11 points at intermission, but Edina made him a focal point of its defense in the second half and limited the sharpshooter to just two points after halftime. 
*** River Falls junior Eli Johnson (6-6), the son of former Mr. Basketball award winner Mike Johnson of Phillips, scored 14 points and grabbed eight rebounds while serving as a man-child in the paint for River Falls. Eli Johnson is considered one of the state's top football prospects in the 2025 class.   

Wisconsin Player of the Game
Preston Johnson, 6-2, Jr., PG

The left-handed point guard missed a few foul shots and some three-point attempts, but his quickness and ability to run the show for River Falls were both impressive. Johnson finished with 13 points and three assists while playing against one of the better man-to-man defenses he will face in the 2023-24 season. Johnson, a three-year varsity performer for coach Zac Campbell, is averaging 10.9 points, 3.1 rebounds and 4.8 assists for the Wildcats. 

Henry Meyer

Game Four
Orono 78, La Crosse Central 54

*** Orono slowly built a lead over La Crosse Central in the first half, but the Riverhawks were within 33-28 of their Minnesota counterpart at halftime. But Orono came out and drilled four three-point baskets early in the second half to take control of the game. Orono finished with 15 made triples and improved to 9-4 with the 78-54 victory. Junior Brady Wooley (6-9), considered one of Minnesota's top class of 2025 prospects, finished with nine points for Orono, but junior Nolan Groves (6-4) led the way for the Spartans with 16 points.
*** La Crosse Central slipped to 6-7 with the setback in what many consider a rebuilding year for coach Todd Fergot's strong program. The Riverhawks, though, remain in the thick of things for the title in the Mississippi Valley Conference and play for sole possession of first place in the league on Tuesday against Onalaska. 
*** Senior wing Payton Strittmater (6-1) turned in a very strong performance for La Crosse Central. He connected on five three-point baskets and scored 21 points, two off his career-high of 23 set earlier this season against Aquinas. 

Wisconsin Player of the Game
Henry Meyer, 6-3, Sr., G

Meyer is one of my favorite players in the state because of his versatility, toughness and no-nonsense demeanor on the court. He can score off the bounce, from the foul line and from outside the three-point arc while also providing solid senior leadership for an otherwise young team. Meyer had 19 points against Orono and was a handful for the Spartans to contain, particularly off the dribble. Meyer is averaging 18.7 pppg for La Crosse Central despite being the focus of every opponent's defense.

Juan Guerrero Hernandez

Game Five
Minnetonka 86, Grafton 76

*** This one kind of slipped away for Wisconsin as Grafton held a second-half lead before Minnetonka rallied down the stretch to post its 11th win in 12 tries this season. The Black Hawks got strong play from junior Juan Guerrero Hernandez and senior Michael McNabb Jr. in the second half and led 64-53 with 10 minutes to go. But Minnetonka used balanced scoring and big-time shots from North Dakota State recruit Andy Stefonowicz to tie the game at 73 with just over two minutes left. Stefonowicz then hit the shot of the game -- a top-of-the-key triple -- to give Minnetonka the lead for good.
*** Stefonowicz finished with 22 points for Minnetonka while senior wing Jordan Cain (6-3) scored inside and outside on the way to netting 22 points.
*** McNabb was held to just two points in the first half, but the Northern Michigan recruit responded in the second 18 minutes with 12 points for coach Damon James' squad. He is averaging 27.8 ppg and 8.8 rpg for the 8-6 Black Hawks.

Wisconsin Player of the Game
Juan Guerrero Hernandez, 6-4, Jr., G

One of the state's better players in an absolutely loaded junior class, Guerrero Hernandez was on fire from deep throughout the contest. He tossed in eight three-point shots and finished with a career-high 32 points for Grafton despite playing a bit under-the-weather. Guerrero Hernandez, a long wing prospect with good shooting range and the ability to defend and rebound, missed some key possessions in the second half after getting sick on the Grafton sideline. Still, he turned in a fantastic game and put the Black Hawks in position to win a game against an outstanding opponent. A three-year varsity performer at Grafton, Guerrero Hernandez also surpassed 1,000 career points in the contest.

Evan Anderson

Game Six
Totino-Grace 98, Onalaska 66

*** The Hilltoppers have a very good team and played loaded Totino-Grace without starting guard Adam Skifton, who was out with injury. As good as Onalaska can be at times, they were no match for Totino-Grace, which got 23 points from Miami (Fla.) recruit Isaiah Johnson (6-7) and 18 from super-sophomore Dothan Ijadimbola.  
*** Onalaska got 22 points from Evan Anderson, 18 from Isaac Skemp and 17 from Jack Smith in dropping its fifth game in 15 outings. 
*** Ijadimbola, a rugged 6-foot-6 wing with very good skill, is ranked among the top 50 sophomores in the country and owns NCAA Division I offers from Iowa, Iowa State and Minnesota, among others. 

Wisconsin Player of the Game
Evan Anderson, 6-4, Sr., G

The South Dakota recruit was a consistent scoring option for Onalaska and tossed in 14 points in the first half and eight more in the second. His athleticism, aggressiveness of the dribble and will-to-win were evident as they've always been for the wing prospect. Anderson was particularly effective driving hard into the lane and then pulling up for a mid-range jumper. He is averaging 21.2 points, 6.2 rebounds and 1.9 steals for the Hilltoppers, who play an important Mississippi Valley Conference contest against La Crosse Central this week.

Julius Clark

Game Seven
Park Center 83, Eau Claire Memorial 58

*** The relentless defensive pressure Park Center put on Eau Claire Memorial wore down the Old Abes and also yielded some turnovers that led to fast-break points and dunks for the winners. Park Center got a big showing from senior guard Ari Gooch (6-2), who scored 20 of his game-best 29 points in the first half to help Park Center grab a 45-29 lead at halftime. University of Washington recruit Casmir Chavis (6-3) added 19 points as Park Center improved to 16-1. 
*** Eau Claire Memorial started four juniors and one senior. Of the 58 points the Old Abes scored in the game, 56 came from underclassmen.
*** Junior guard Cooper Jesperson (6-2) was the center of Park Center's attention on defense as Gooch tried to deny Jesperson the ball. Once Jesperson did get the ball, he had trouble finding openings. Still, the gifted guard prospect managed to score 15 points and drill three triples. 

Wisconsin Player of the Game
Julius Clark, 5-11, Jr., G

Clark has as much moxie and swagger on the court as any player in the state, and that confidence usually leads to positive results for coach Chad Brieske's squad. Clark's quick hands led to some deflections and his quickness and confidence allowed him to score over taller defenders on the break and in the half-court. Clark finished with a team-best 22 points and proved he is more than capable of holding his own against opponents with a very high talent level. Clark is averaging 11.5 points, 3.4 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.9 steals for Eau Claire Memorial, now 12-3.

Tim Franks

Game Eight
Homestead 80, Benilde-St. Magaret's 64

*** Homestead got big baskets from senior Tim Franks down the stretch to post an 80-64 victory over the host school and help Wisconsin avoid a shutout in the Border Battle. Homestead led 36-33 at halftime, and then got points from seven different players in the second half to win going away. 
*** Benilde-St. Margaret's slipped to 6-7 with the loss, but boasts two of the better juniors in Minnesota in forward Jalen Wilson (12 points) and guard Jaleel Donley (18 points). Both are considered NCAA Division I prospects.
*** Senior Andrew Hinterstocker (5-7) buried two huge three-point baskets in the second half for Homestead and finished with eight points. Meanwhile, senior point guard Isaiah Wright (6-0) had two important baskets off cuts to the hoop during crunch time to help keep Homestead comfortably in front. 

Wisconsin Player of the Game
Tim Franks, 6-5, Sr., G

Franks was nothing short of outstanding in both halves and was the major reason why Homestead improved to 11-3 under coach Sean Crider. With his college coach, John Tauer of the University of St. Thomas, in the stands, Franks went off for 39 points and drilled one huge three after another. He finished with six triples and also went 15-of-19 from the foul line. In addition, Franks contributed well on the glass, collecting seven rebounds. The four-year varsity performer has scored more than 1,500 career points and is averaging 28.6 points, 7.6 rebounds and 1.8 assists. 

Some tidbits ...

*** Minnesota now leads the all-time series of the Border Battle, 64-42. Wisconsin had won last year's event, 5-2, and the 2022 event, 4-2. 

*** Next year's Wisconsin vs. Minnesota Border Battle is set for February 8, 2025 at River Falls High School. Teams to date from Wisconsin committed to taking part include Nicolet, Milwaukee Academy of Science, Appleton North, Eau Claire Memorial and River Falls.  

For the latest and most up to date boys' basketball news and recruiting information, follow Mark on Twitter @wisbbyearbook. Email story ideas, recruiting info, etc. to Mark by clicking here.

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