EDITOR’S NOTE: In 1981, the Heron Lake-Okabena high school girls basketball team won the Minnesota state Class A championship with a perfect record, and all signs pointed to the Scarlet Knights returning to the Big Show to defend their title in 1982. But a scrappy East Chain team stood in the way at the Region 2A finals. Spring sports are canceled, so The Globe is reprinting selected articles from great sports moments of the past. Today’s story (condensed), which appeared in the March 13, 1982 issue of the Daily Globe, takes us back to that HL-O vs. East Chain showdown.
ST. JAMES (Special) -- The streak is over.
Heron Lake-Okabena, for the first time in 49 games, the first time since March 4, 1980, has lost a girls basketball game. The Scarlet Knights were upended by East Chain 43-39 here Friday night before an enthusiastic, overflow crowd in the Region 2A finals. East Chain will take a 22-1 record into next week’s state tournament.
“We never put together any spurts,” said a dejected HL-O coach Les Knutson after the game. “We let up in the second quarter. They just out-hustled us.”
Knutson’s Knights, defending regional and state champions, played well early in the contest Friday night. Heron Lake-Okabena led by seven points after the game’s first eight minutes. With star guard Pat Burns effectively handling East Chain’s zone-press defense, and Cindy Rasche putting the clamps on East Chain’s high-scoring center, Geri Murra, it appeared the Scarlet Knights would coast past the Chainers.
But East Chain, champions of District 5, would not fold. “I told the girls to just settle down and work the ball inside,” said East Chain coach Rick Uttech, when asked how he rallied his club. “I felt we were the underdogs, so I told the girls the pressure was all on them (HL-O).”
The Chainers quickly got back into the contest in the second period. After trailing 16-9, East Chain outscored HL-O 10-2 to take the lead. Murra, a 6-0 senior, and junior guard Mary Oelke led the East Chain charge. Murra scored a layup, two free throws and a rebound shot, and Oelke added a layup, as the Chainers successfully worked the ball against HL-O’s man-to-man pressure.
Meanwhile, the Scarlet Knights were having less-and-less luck against the Chainers’ 1-2-2 zone press. East Chain fell back into a 1-3-1 zone, and frequently HL-O was forced to fire from outside. Burns could not hit, and the Scarlet Knights’ inside performers also had a frustrating time trying to put the ball in the hoop.
In the third period, East Chain did not score for more than four minutes. By that time, behind the play of Burns and Rasche, HL-O had recaptured the lead, 28-23. But then the Scarlet Knights slumped.
Oelke, who led East Chain with 16 points, scored a layup, then stole the ball and scored again. When East Chain’s Marilyn Swanson nailed two free throws, the Chainers led 33-32 after three periods.
The third period was a disaster for HL-O fans. Burns picked up four quick fouls and Rasche was whistled for fouls three and four during that eight-minute stretch. …
With about 20 seconds left (in the fourth quarter), Burns missed a pair of desperate long shots and, when the ball bounced out of bounds last touched by HL-O hands, the Knights’ spectacular 48-game winning streak had come to an end. …
Knutson, the incredibly successful HL-O mentor, didn’t do much analyzing after the game.
“We panicked against it,” he said when asked why East Chain’s defensive press caused the Knights trouble after the first period. “We didn’t look the floor over. And we got a couple of shots blocked early. So I think the girls backed off.”
As a result, Knutson’s team looked almost without exception to Burns. The multi-talented senior finished her sparkling prep career with 16 points and 16 rebounds. Although she did not shoot as well as she has in the past, Burns’ play did nothing to belie her lofty reputation.