The No. 2-rated and No. 2-seeded Apple Valley Eagles fended off their South Suburban Conference mates from Lakeville North 67-58 on Thursday night to advance to the Class AAAA championship game Saturday.

The seconds were dwindling in the first half when Lakeville North was waiting to work for a last shot down by six and turned the ball over only to see Gary Trent Jr. drain a three-pointer at the buzzer and take a nine-point halftime lead. It was that kind of day for the Panthers.

Head coach Jon Oxton told KDHL before the game his team needed to play exceptionally well to beat a very good Apple Valley team. You know the old saying about it being hard to beat a good team three times in a season. The defending state champions from Lakeville North are a good team, but fell for the third time this season to the Eagles. Lakeville North was without their leading scorer Connor Flack again and at times had trouble finding offense, much of that due to some very good defense played by Apple Valley.

The Eagles tallied nine blocks in the game, five by 7-foot junior center Brock Bertram who had a very efficient game. He finished with 11 points and nine rebounds on four of seven shooting from the field and led the team in assists with three.

Apple Valley punched their lead up to double digits in the second half only to see the Panthers make a run, and halfway through the second half had the lead down to five points. Lakeville North did take care of the ball exceptionally well, turning it over just seven times, but a couple of those and some ill-advised shots had Apple Valley punching the lead back to double digits.

The Eagles' 6-foot-1 freshman point guard Tre Jones is fun to watch because he is so good with the basketball. He had one turnover in the game while playing 34 minutes. The official stats also credited him with just one assist and Apple Valley with four of those; Lakeville North had six assists. Apple Valley finished the game with 11 turnovers. The Panthers also out rebounded the Eagles 33-31 and had 17 offensive caroms. In large part that number was due to some poor shooting by Lakeville North (35.5 percent for game).

Apple Valley students flash lights during Lakeville North free throws

Much like the other AAAA semifinal, the free throw line was a huge factor. Apple Valley outscored Lakeville North 14-7 at the charity stripe. Trent led the Eagles in scoring again with 19 points. The junior is now 13 of 24 from the field and nine of 10 from the free throw line in the tournament. Apple Valley shot 58 percent for the game. Junior Carter Brooks was the only Lakeville North player to score in double figures with 13 points.

It's going to be one great Class AAAA championship game: the No. 1 unbeaten Champlin Park Rebels and No. 2 Apple Valley with just two losses on the season. One of those losses was to the Rebels by five on Dec. 27. The other loss was a three-point nail biter to crosstown rival Eastview.

Tip-off is scheduled for 8 p.m. Saturday, and KDHL 920AM will have the game on the airwaves. It's also available at kdhlradio.com and through the Radio Pup app on your favorite mobile device.