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Tony Villarreal's 26 points spark Grafton to region title over Hillsboro-Central Valley

The Spoilers held off a late charge and 33 points from Burros' star Gannon Limke.

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The Grafton Spoilers celebrate their Region 2 championship over Hillsboro-Central Valley Thursday at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center.
Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

GRAND FORKS — Tony Villarreal spent last year's North Dakota state Class B boys basketball tournament in a suit at the end of the Spoilers bench after playing mostly junior varsity during the season.

He's going to have a bigger role this year. The 5-foot-11 sophomore guard made sure of that Thursday night.

Villarreal scored 26 points behind five 3-pointers as the Spoilers held off a late charge from Hillsboro-Central Valley in a 64-62 victory in the Region 2 championship game at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center.

Villarreal, who averages about 10 points per game during the season, scored five in the region quarterfinals and seven in the semifinals.

"I felt like the last two games I wasn't contributing with the team," Villarreal said. "We came out here and my teammates found me open, and I felt like I could shoot tonight."

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Grafton's Braylon Baldwin, left, and Juan Villarreal react at the buzzer as the Spoilers defeat Hillsboro-Central Valley for the ND Class B Region 2 championship at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center Thursday, March 10, 2022.
Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

It was an eventful game for Villarreal, who had to sprint off the court in the first half to puke in the bathroom behind the Grafton bench.

"I couldn't breathe and started puking," Villarreal said. "I think I drank too much water and maybe there were some butterflies in there. Championship game."

After trailing by 13 at halftime, Hillsboro-Central Valley's Gannon Limke willed his team back into the game. Limke hit just three free throws in the first half but finished with 30 second-half points.

Hillsboro-Central Valley sophomore Jacob Brandt hit a deep 3-pointer with 29 seconds left to cut the Spoiler lead to 63-60.

Grafton countered with an over-and-back call as it attempted to break the Burros' press with 17 seconds to go, giving Hillsboro-Central Valley a chance to tie the game.

But with 5 seconds remaining, Brandt's rushed 3-pointer from the wing was off the mark and the Spoilers iced the win with a Braylon Baldwin free throw.

Limke scored at the buzzer for the final 64-62 margin.

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Hillsboro Central Valley's Gannon Limke pulls up for a jumper as Grafton's Ryan Hanson guards him in the second half Thursday.
Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

Grafton's talented sophomore trio of Villarreal, Baldwin and Ryan Hanson took turns during the regional tournament carrying the load.

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Against Mayville-Portland-Clifford-Galesburg in the quarterfinals, Baldwin (23 points) and Will Jiskra (20) accounted for 43 of the team's 50 points. In the semifinals over Thompson, Hanson had a team-high 16 points.

"It's awesome to know we can have guys who can score at any time," Jiskra said. "When one guy has an off night, we can trust another guy to pick up the slack and have a game."

After Villarreal's 26 points, Baldwin and Max Dumas each had 11, while Hanson and Jiskra each had seven.

"Totally different kid for us every night," Grafton coach Riley Lillemoen said. "Tonight it was Tony hitting shots and knocking down free throws when it mattered."

After Limke's 33 points, Aaron Cooper chipped in 10 and Brandt finished with eight for the Burros.

"We talked at halftime that they'll go on a run," Lillemoen said. "They're a great team and well-coached. Honestly, Will was in (Limke's) shorts most of the night but he took over. He made shots with a hand in his face. We did a pretty good job on him, but he found a way to knock down shots for them."

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Grafton's William Jiskra drives past Hillsboro-Central Valley's Caden Waterworth in the Region 2 championship game Thursday, March 10, 2022, at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center.
Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

The Spoilers built a strong early lead by finishing both the first and second quarters strong. At the end of the first, Villarreall and Baldwin hit 3-pointers to turn a 9-9 game into a 15-9 lead at the first break.

Then in the second, the Spoilers went to halftime on a 7-0 spurt with Dumas scoring inside, followed by a Villarreal trey and a Jiskra drive — a rally that turned a 25-19 lead into a 32-19 advantage at half.

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Grafton 64,
Hillsboro-CV 62
Halftime: Grafton 32, HCV 19
Grafton — Braylon Baldwin 11, Tony Villarreal 26, Ryan Hanson 7, William Jiskra 7, Ethan Suda 2, Maxwell Dumas 11
Hillsboro-Central Valley — Aaron Cooper 10, Gannon Limke 33, Parker Gallagher 2, Peter Dryburgh 4, Caden Waterworth 5, Jacob Brandt 8

Miller has covered sports at the Grand Forks Herald since 2004 and was the state sportswriter of the year in 2019.

His primary beat is UND football but also reports on a variety of UND sports and local preps.

He can be reached at (701) 780-1121, tmiller@gfherald.com or on Twitter at @tommillergf.
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