PREP GIRLS BASKETBALL: Wabasso knocks off SWC for Southern Division title
MARSHALL -- Shooting well from the perimeter, running the floor for transition baskets and controlling the boards on each end of the court Friday night, the top-seeded Wabasso Rabbits were in command during the first half of the Section 3A South high school girls' basketball tournament championship game at Southwest Minnesota State University's R/A Facility.
Wabasso (26-2) built a huge 40-17 lead and then withstood a late burst from the second-seeded Southwest Christian Eagles in the second half to claim a 76-65 victory and advanced to the Section 3A finals next Friday (5 p.m.). The Rabbits will play Minneota (also 26-2) -- a 52-32 winner over Dawson-Boyd in the North title game -- at SMSU.
Wabasso's Chelsey Guetter (26 points, six steals) and Larissa Rohlik (17 points) each connected on a trio of 3-pointers in the first half, while Kimberly Frank (11 points, seven assists) returned from an ankle injury with a steady all-around performance to help the Rabbits extend their current winning streak to 18 games.
Meanwhile, SWC (22-5) had its 18-game winning streak snapped with the season-ending loss. Six players scored between 17 and seven points for the well-balanced Eagles, who trimmed the gap to six (62-56) with an impressive 16-2 run midway through the second half.
"Our girls showed a lot of fight, and I'm really proud of them," said SWC head coach Denise Nerem, who was recognized as the sub-section coach of the year after the game. "We played a super second half, but came up a little bit short. Hats off to Wabasso, as they have an outstanding team and played very well -- in the first half especially."
The Rabbits led from start to finish, jumping out to early leads of 4-0 and 7-2 before later rattling off 13 straight points to take a 20-6 advantage with 10 minutes and 32 seconds remaining in the first half.
Desi Kramer (eight points, nine rebounds) scored Wabasso's first four points with two free throws and a layup off a steal, while Guetter and Rohlik both buried a pair of long-distance shots to help the Rabbits race out of the gate.
Erin Liebl added two free throws, and Kacie Rothmeier scored in the lane for Wabasso, which was getting several defensive stops by hustling and rotating well in its zone look.
"We came out strong in the first half," Wabasso head coach Neil Dolan said. "We moved the ball well and got some open shots, making several of them to build a nice lead. Our girls continue to rise to the occasion and step up with consistent plays."
The Rabbits stayed sharp and gradually opened up a 40-17 bulge with 3:14 remaining. Guetter and Rohlik each hit another trey, while Frank and Karlee Eichten scored back-to-back baskets after they both ran the floor and filled an open lane to keep Wabasso rolling.
Morgan Frank's turnaround shot from the right elbow -- which made it a 23-point spread -- was answered by a 3-pointer from SWC's Savannah Tinklenberg (13 points). The Eagles used a late 9-3 run to pull within 17 (43-26) at halftime.
Amber Pater (eight points, six assists and five rebounds) netted two free throws, Tianna Top (seven points, seven rebounds) drilled a 17-footer along the right baseline, and Jennifer Schmidt (17 points, four assists) scored on an offensive-rebound chance right before the buzzer sounded to give SWC some positive momentum going into the locker room.
The margin stayed between 15 and 20 points to start the second half before SWC's Morgan Van Hulzen (10 points, nine rebounds) scored three straight baskets inside to make it a 13-point game (47-34) with 14:26 on the clock.
A 3-pointer by Schmidt made it 49-37 before Wabasso pushed its lead back to 20 (60-40) at the 12:06 mark behind a pair of treys from Rohlik and one from Kimberly Frank.
That's when the Eagles launched a 14-point surge, outscoring the Rabbits 16-2 over an impressive six-minute stretch. An interior basket by Kelly Tinklenberg (eight points) helped fuel SWC's comeback attempt.
Savannah Tinklenberg scored seven points in that run with two driving hoops and a 3-pointer, while Schmidt knocked down another trey. Van Hulzen's 15-footer along the left baseline and Pater's driving basket through the lane capped the burst, as the Eagles were down 62-56 with 6:04 to play.
However, Wabasso countered with a 9-0 run -- including key offensive-rebound baskets from Kramer and Guetter -- to increase its lead to 71-56 with 2:17 showing on the clock and essentially seal the victory.
"We showed some poise and responded well to SWC's run," Dolan said. "Our girls have been in similar situations, and like I said, they continually step up to the challenge and find a way to win. This was a great all-around effort against a very good team -- give the Eagles a lot of credit."
Savannah Tinklenberg meshed another 3-pointer, Schmidt went 4-for-4 from the free-throw line, and Hannah Van Dyke scored on the Eagles' second buzzer-beater of the game to close out SWC's scoring, which was offset by baskets by Kimberly Frank and Kramer, along with a free throw from Liebl, to create the final 76-65 margin.
Wabasso was charted with 25 team assists on 28 field goals. The Rabbits were 9-for-18 from behind the 3-point line, including 6-for-7 in the first half.
SWC had 26 turnovers (16 in the first half) and missed several well-contested shots from short range in addition to leaving Wabasso's shooters open a few too many times.
"I wish we could have a "re-do" of the first half, as we didn't play our best basketball," Nerem said. "But we came back strong in the second half and got some things to go our way. We really did have a fantastic season and had a lot of very good wins -- it sure was fun to coach these girls."
Southwest Christian 65
SOUTHWEST CHRISTIAN (22-5): Van Dyke 1 0-0 2, Top 3 1-2 7, S. Tinklenberg 5 0-2 13, Pater 1 6-6 8, Van Hulzen 5 0-1 10, Schmidt 4 7-10 17, K. Tinklenberg 4 0-1 8. Totals: 23 14-22 65.
WABASSO (26-2): L. Rohlik 6 0-0 17, Kramer 3 2-3 8, Liebl 0 3-4 3, Eichten 1 0-0 2, K. Frank 4 2-4 11, K. Rothmeier 2 0-1 4, Guetter 10 3-3 26, M. Frank 2 1-3 5. Totals: 28 11-18 76.
Southwest Christian 26 39 -- 65
Wabasso 43 33 -- 76
3-Point Goals: Southwest Christian 5 (S. Tinklenberg 3, Schmidt 2); Wabasso 9 (L. Rohlik 5, Guetter 3, K. Frank). Rebounds: Southwest Christian 33 (Van Hulzen 9, Top 7, Pater 5); Wabasso 39 (Kramer 9, K. Frank 5, E. Franta 5, K. Rothmeier 5). Assists: Southwest Christian 15 (Pater 6, Schmidt 4); Wabasso 25 (K. Frank 7, Liebl 6). Steals: Southwest Christian 10 (Top 2, Pater 2, K. Tinklenberg 2); Wabasso 16 (Guetter 6). Blocked Shots: Southwest Christian 3 (Top, S. Tinklenberg, K. Tinklenberg); Wabasso 4 (Eichten 2, E. Franta, K. Rothmeier). Turnovers: Southwest Christian 26, Wabasso 19.