PREP GIRLS' BASKETBALL: Eagles fall in section championship
MARSHALL -- Displaying a well-diversified offensive attack and delivering a stifling team defensive effort Friday night, the North champion Minneota Vikings gradually pulled away and claimed a 58-41 victory over the South champion Southwest Christian Eagles in the Section 3A high school girls' basketball championship game at Southwest Minnesota State University's R/A Facility.
Minneota, which extended its winning streak to 27 games and improved to 29-1 overall, will play in the Class A state tournament for the second year in a row. The Vikings are set to meet Section 6A champion Ada-Borup (26-2) in the quarterfinals Thursday at Williams Arena in Minneapolis, with tip-off scheduled for 1 p.m.
Meanwhile, SWC sees an outstanding season come to an abrupt end with a record of 20-6. The Eagles shot just 25 percent from the field Friday and trailed from the get-go against the state-ranked Vikings, who were rated eighth in the final regular-season polls.
"We did have a great season and fantastic tournament run," summed up SWC head coach Denise Nerem after the game. "I had a great group of girls to work with everyday, and I think we overachieved the entire year. This was a disappointing way for us to finish, but Minneota has an outstanding team and forced us into perhaps our worst offensive performance of the season."
The Eagles, who knocked off Ellsworth (60-52), Adrian (64-46) and Fulda (65-59) to reach the section finals for the second time in the last three years, will lose five seniors -- Megan DeRuyter, Michaela Zeinstra, Julie Bobb, Deidra Vander Woude and Melinda Raak -- off a team that started the season 8-0 and also had records of 12-1 and 15-2.
Minneota showcases balance, defense
The Vikings jumped on top right away when Molly Hennen (eight points) buried a left-corner 3-pointer just 23 seconds in against SWC's 2-3 zone defense, helping set the tone with a quick 3-0 lead early in the first half.
Taylor Reiss (17 points, eight rebounds) scored underneath on a high-low feed from Hennen at the 16:48 mark, while Katelyn Kack (14 points, seven steals) swished a 15-footer from the right side to give Minneota a 7-0 lead 18 seconds later.
Amber Pater (11 points, four rebounds) got the Eagles on the board with a mid-range jumper from the left side, and Vander Woude (four points, four rebounds) netted a shot from the high-post area to help SWC pull within three (8-5) with 14:01 on the clock.
However, a basket down low by Reiss (Hennen assist) and a 3-pointer from the right corner by Emily Stienessen (10 points) made it 13-6 two minutes later. Kack then connected on two more medium-distance shots to boost Minneota's lead to 17-8 at the 10-minute mark.
SWC was back within five (19-14) following a press-breaking basket by Kelly Tinklenberg (DeRuyter assist) and two free throws from Bobb with less than six minutes left, but Minneota pushed the margin to double digits and led 30-18 at halftime.
Stienessen scored twice in the paint to trigger the Vikings' late surge, while Kack scored four more points (18-footer from the left wing and two free throws) to give her a game-high 10 in the first half. Megan Larson rattled in a 3-pointer from the left corner to aid Minneota's cause, as well.
"We have a lot of girls who are capable of scoring, and they sure stepped up tonight," Minneota head coach Chad Johnston said. "SWC was focusing on taking away our inside game and did a nice job of that. We just moved the ball and hit some open shots from the perimeter to get going offensively."
The Vikings were also doing the job defensively, holding the Eagles to six baskets in the first 18 minutes by applying ball pressure and challenging shots at a high level.
Vikings answer Eagles' runs
Minneota started the second half by scoring eight of the first 10 points, increasing its advantage to 38-20 by the 15:24 mark. Kelsey Hennen (four points, seven assists) highlighted that burst by dropping in a 3-pointer from the top of the key and passing to Reiss in transition for a basket and free throw (3-point play).
DeRuyter, who scored all of her team-high 13 points in the second half, countered with a driving layup and a pull-up jumper in the lane. Hannah Van Dyke (four points, five rebounds) then hustled for an offensive-rebound basket to trim the gap to 12 (38-26) with 13:49 remaining.
Minneota, though, answered with a 7-0 run to go up 45-26 at the 11:18 mark. Shelby Corbin triggered that sequence with a coast-to-coast layup off a steal and a pair of assists -- one to Reiss and one to Kack -- for interior buckets.
SWC came back with a 9-0 run, as Pater and Morgan Van Hulzen scored press-breaker baskets. DeRuyter nailed a 3-pointer from out top and also sank two free throws, as the Eagles were within 10 (45-35) with 7:10 remaining.
But that's as close as the margin got, as Minneota scored 13 of the final 19 points to secure a 58-41 victory. Stienessen bounced in a 3-pointer, and Reiss scored twice inside to help the Vikings effectively close the game out.
SWC 18 23 -- 41
Minneota 30 28 -- 58
SWC (3FG-2FG-FT-TP): Van Dyke 0-2-0-4, DeRuyter 1-2-6-13, Zeinstra 0-0-2-2, Bobb 0-0-2-2, Vander Woude 0-2-0-4, Pater 0-4-3-11, Van Hulzen 0-1-0-2, Schmidt 0-0-1-1, Tinklenberg 0-1-0-2. Totals: 1-12-14-41.
Minneota (3FG-2FG-FT-TP): M. Hennen 1-1-3-8, Corbin 0-1-0-2, Kack 0-5-4-14, K. Hennen 1-0-1-4, Stienessen 2-2-0-10, Reiss 0-7-3-17, Larson 1-0-0-3. Totals: 5-16-11-58.