DELANO — The Tigers’ warmup shirts Tuesday night were not the usual athletic material you see on a high school player. Instead, they were cotton tees with bright orange lettering on both sides: the hashtag #StreetStrong on the front and ‘Longstreet’ on the back above the number 13.
It wasn’t a rallying cry around the team’s leading scorer, Trey Longstreet, but his younger brother, JJ. The eighth-grader collapsed suddenly during a basketball workout March 19 and is currently recovering in the hospital after swift action from his workout partners and their parents.
The community and the surrounding area have come together to assist the Longstreet family over the last handful of days, with meals, messages and more. And older brother Trey knew what — or rather, who — he was playing for in a harrowing double overtime win over Fridley Tuesday.
“It was great to get on the court and I knew my brother was watching from the hospital, live streaming it in,” Longstreet said. “It definitely pushed me harder and I wanted to win this one for him. I’m definitely going to call him after this and tell him how much the team fought for him.”
#StreetStrong shirts formed a sea of Delano faithful in the stands along with each player and coach donning the visual display of support. The Tigers needed every bit of energy they provided to defeat Fridley 70-67 and advance to the Section 5AAA championship.
It’s been an emotional few days for the whole team,” head coach Terry Techam said. “For [these guys] to show the toughness and emotionally get through this game, that was amazing.”
Though Longstreet was the team’s leading scorer with 31 points, it was freshman Will Strandemo who asserted himself early, knocking down kickout three-pointers and getting to his recliner chair in the midrange for pull-up jumpers. As the team’s second-leading scorer this season and with many teams keying on Longstreet’s offensive gravity, his shot-making has become crucial. His 13 first-half points helped give Delano a 30-20 lead at the break.
“I feel very comfortable. I live for these moments, they’re why you play basketball,” Strandemo said.
The moments he’s referring to came late in the game, after Fridley found an offensive rhythm and took the lead and all the momentum, 53-47, with less than three minutes to go. Tra’Vionne Stevenson sparked Fridley’s run, getting past the Delano defense in the paint.
But the Tigers kept pushing the envelope while running on near fumes, the first Delano substitution of the game coming 24 game minutes in. Rolling with his starters the majority of the game is a regular Terry Techam philosophy, but he’s had the luxury of three or more bench players providing positive minutes during the regular season. When playoffs roll around, things ramp up even more. And Delano rose to the occasion.
“With this team there’s never a question with their effort. It’s always unbelievable in practice and in games,” Techam said. “Sometimes we might struggle putting the ball in the hole or we might make a defensive mistake, but these guys always compete and play hard.”
“All our guys are ready to step in,” Longstreet said. “Ty comes in and gets a big rebound at the end, Jack Norman comes in and I know Trent Techam is ready to hit a shot. That’s how we roll as a team, we over me.”
Longstreet stayed aggressive to the rim and hit a few free throws to keep it within one possession, and then a critical Strandemo three-pointer on a Jackson Stewart offensive rebound gave the Tigers a 59-58 lead with less than a minute left.
Fridley tied it with a free throw and it looked like Longstreet would seal it on two freebies with 4.2 seconds left. Fridley’s Devin Williams had other plans as he barely beat the buzzer on a layup to force overtime.
The visitors stalled for the entirety of the overtime, drawing up a play at the end out of a timeout, but Techam and his staff decided to throw in a rare wrinkle.
Delano came out in a 2-3 zone for that final overtime play, bamboozling the Fridley play call and forcing a tough jumper that missed.
“We talked about it at the end of regulation, but we don’t play a lot of zone so we weren’t confident in it,” Techam said. “But we said what the heck – they probably drew up a play against man-to-man, and luckily for us it worked to send us into another overtime.”
It might have been that luck that gave Delano an extra boost in the final four minutes, Longstreet asserting on offense and Carter Tool, Ty Weiman and Jackson Stewart providing key defense and rebounding to seal the win. Free throws extended the game out of reach in the final seconds, and the top-seeded Tigers command home court once again in the section final.
It’s a mountain they climbed a season ago, but the high faded with the cancellation of the State Tournament. Now Longstreet, Strandemo and company have another chance, and they’re going to make the most of it in their home gym Friday against Cinderella seven seed Monticello.
“This is great, I’m looking forward to all the years to come that I’m playing here too. I love the atmosphere and everyone who comes to cheer us on,” Strandemo, who scored 22 points, said.
“It’s been a year of waiting trying to get back to this point, trying to get to state. There’s no experience like that,” Longstreet said. “I still remember freshman year being underdogs, and that’s what we’re going to come in as again if we get there this year. There’s no feeling like it and I’m excited for our team.”
JJ Longstreet must be pretty excited too.
For the complete story and more Herald Journal sports coverage, check out the March 26 edition of the Herald Journal. Click here for subscription information. Subscribers have full access to this article and more by clicking here. Subscriptions start as low as $1.50 for a two-day subscription, the same price as a newspaper on a newsstand.
Follow Jared Martinson on Twitter: @JaredNHR