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Section 2AAA girls basketball: Trojans stunned by Willmar

Worthington’s Apiew Alwal takes aim on a shot during Tuesday night’s Section 2AAA girls basketball game at WHS. BRIAN KORTHALS/DAILY GLOBE

WORTHINGTON — Everybody at the Worthington High School gymnasium waited, expecting the Trojans to make a run.

Even Dustin Carlson, the Willmar Cardinals head coach, braced for it.

But the second-half run never happened, and the Cardinals upset the Worthington Trojans 63-56 Tuesday night in the first round of the Section 2AAA girls basketball tournament. The Trojans, armed with a 21-2 record and seeded third in the tournament, faced a sixth-seeded Cards team that brought a 13-13 record with them to Worthington. Exactly one week earlier, the Trojans boys basketball team — also seeded sixth — erupted for 55 second half points to defeat third-seeded Willmar 92-88, in Willmar. So what the Cardinal girls did Tuesday enacted a measure of revenge, of sorts.

“I mentioned (the seeding) right away. Once we got the seeds I said something to the girls, that the seeds are flipped, so let’s just flip-flop the game,” said Carlson.

Willmar arrived late to Worthington on Tuesday due to a bus breakdown. So the game that was supposed to begin at 7 p.m. didn’t get started until 7:54. It’s pure conjecture to assume that the Trojans came out flat in the first half due to the delay, but they did indeed come out flat. Willmar moved out to a 9-2 lead that became 14-6. Worthington gritted it out, however, and when junior forward Ana Boever scored on a rebound and put-back shot at the 10:07 mark, the favored Trojans finally took a lead, 15-14. Using a trapping defense that stopped the Cardinals in their tracks often on the offensive end, the Trojans reeled off 13 straight points for a 19-14 lead before the visitors were able to regroup.

Then it was Willmar’s turn. A three-point shot by junior guard Leah Ruter made the score 28-21 in the Cardinals’ favor with 3:16 remaining till halftime, completing a 14-2 run.

Willmar led 34-29 at intermission and gritty, physical play by the Cardinals kept the Trojans at bay in the second half. A Courtney Magnuson three-pointer at 11:37 made the score 46-38 in the Cards’ favor. The lead was nine points, 52-43, at the eight-minute mark. Worthington’s anticipated run never occurred. Opportunities often showed themselves, but fate — or the Cardinals — always seemed to get in the way. For instance: at the 1:47 mark Worthington point guard Abbie Landgaard missed the front end of a one-and-one situation and Willmar grabbed the rebound. But Worthington had the ball again moments later on a turnover at midcourt. Paige Gravenhof launched a three-point try from the corner that was short and rebounded by Willmar, then Willmar was put to the free throw line with a foul.

Magnuson led the Cardinals with 24 points. Jordan Martins added 10.

For Worthington, Boever led the way with 19 points. Gravenhof had 10. But the Trojans, normally very proficient at long range, converted only two three-pointers on the night. They were inconsistent from there, and inconsistent inside as well.

“We knew they were going to be tough. They’ve got some great kids. They score so well, it scares you,” said Carlson, who explained that he never counted the Trojans out until they were really out. “That’s the scary thing about Worthington — you got a 10-point lead and you’re nervous. Because sooner or later they’re going to shoot the three and it’s going to get in.”

Few teams have been able to match Worthington for physicality, but Willmar was its match on Tuesday night.

“Our game plan was to be physical and be stronger than them. We felt that was our advantage. That, and get to the basket,” said Carlson, who also stressed his team’s need to keep Worthington off the offensive boards. According to the Willmar stat-keeper, the Cardinals finished with 52 rebounds compared to Worthington’s 34.

There were many moist eyes on the Worthington side after the final buzzer sounded.

“I think they wanted revenge, and we weren’t really prepared,” said Landgaard. “We could’ve done better shooting and we could’ve got it inside a little more.”

Willmar advances to the Section 2AAA semifinals set for Saturday at 7:45 p.m. at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter.

Willmar 34 63

Worthington 29 56

WILLMAR (3FG-2FG-FT-TP) — Magnuson 1-10-1-24, Rudnick 0-1-3-5, Martins 1-0-7-10, Hastad 0-1-1-3, Ruter 1-2-2-9, Doering 0-1-0-2, Orlowski 0-4-0-8, Kienholz 0-1-0-2. Totals 3-20-14-63.

WORTHINGTON (3FG-2FG-FT-TP) — Boever 1-6-4-19, Landgaard 0-2-0-4, Henning 0-4-1-9, Linder 0-2-1-5, Gravenhof 1-2-3-10, Ap. Alwal 0-4-1-9, Gerber 0-0-0-0. Totals 2-20-10-56.

Doug Wolter

Doug Wolter is the Daily Globe sports editor. He served as sports reporter, then sports editor, news editor and finally managing editor at the Daily Globe for 22 years before leaving for seven years to work as night news editor at the Mankato Free Press in Mankato. Doug now lives in Worthington with his wife, Sandy. They have three children and seven grandchildren. Doug, retired after a lengthy career in fast-pitch softball, enjoys reading, strumming his acoustic guitar and hanging around his grandchildren. He also writes books on fiction. Two of his stories, "The Genuine One" and "The Old Man in Section 129" have been distributed through a national publisher.

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