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Section 3A girls basketball championship: Minneota turns back Southwest Christian

Southwest Christian girls basketball players walk sadly off the court at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall after their goal of qualifying for the state tournament were dashed Friday night by Minneota. (Tim Middagh/The Globe)

BY AARON HAGEN

The Globe

MARSHALL -- Southwest Christian head coach Denise Nerem knew Minneota was going to have a strong second half.

And in Friday’s Section 3A girls basketball championship, the No.1-ranked Vikings did just that.

Minneota pulled away from a close first half to earn a 65-47 victory.

I know that’s what they do, they come out after halftime and they take you out of that,” Nerem said. “I’ve watched hours of film about that, I know that. We just couldn’t stop the dribble penetration. A good team, you have to match up with all five people.”

The Vikings’ potent offense created issues for the SWC defense at times.

“They are very quick, so we talked a lot about helping and switching screens and doing the best we could,” SWC’s Hannah Nerem said. “We got caught not looking. We let that backdoor go too many times and that’s what really ate us up.”

After the Eagles’ Jazlynn Prins scored the game’s first basket -- a 3 pointer -- the Vikings went on an 8-0 run to force a SWC timeout.

However, the Eagles battled back to tie the game at 12 after a pair of baskets from Prins, a shot from Ella Veldkamp and an inside bucket from Hannah Nerem.

“I think we had a pulse, we had a good momentum and we felt the rhythm of the game,” Hannah Nerem said. “In the second half, we just couldn’t establish a rhythm or any form of good feelings.”

The first-half difference was never more than eight, which happened twice. Minneota led 22-14, but Prins answered with a triple and turned a steal into a layup as the difference was just three points, 22-19. The Vikings scored the next five to again lead by eight in the final 30 seconds of the half, but Prins -- who had 15 first-half points -- made a shot at the buzzer as SWC trailed 27-21 at the break.

“The first half, we came out strong and we came out pretty fearless, I think,” Hannah Nerem said. “We were shooting the ball well and we were playing hard. In the second half, we couldn’t get shots to knock down, we weren’t crashing the boards as hard. We got beat on the backdoor, that was a weakness of ours.”

Out of halftime, Prins and Cybil VanderTop each made a 3, but each time, Minneota had an answer. A quick 6-0 run midway through the second half gave some separation for the Vikings, who led 45-31. That advantage went to 15 (50-35) with 6:42 remaining. The teams traded baskets, but Veldkamp made a shot, VanderTop hit two foul shots, Prins made a pair of free throws and Maren Nerem put back an offensive rebounds as SWC was within 12 in the final three minutes.

“We didn’t find the shots and we didn’t penetrate to the rim as well as we could,” Coach Nerem said. “I was more disappointed in our offensive effort more than anything. But the girls worked hard, they tried hard, they got up and down the floor. They had a great year and there’s a lot of people who’d like to be in our shoes, and they worked hard to be here.”

Minneota’s Lydia Sussner answered with a basket, Abby Hennen hit a shot and Lizzy Gillingham made a layup to push the lead back to 18 in the final minute and a half. From there, the Vikings milked the final minutes away to advance to the state tournament.

Prins finished with 24 points and Hannah Nerem had 10 for the Eagles, while Morgan Hennen scored 21, Abby Hennen had 17 and Sussner scored 12 for the Vikings.

The two teams are no stranger to the big stage; they teams have combined to win the last 10 section titles. After SWC claimed victory in 2010, Minneota won the next five. The Eagles took the crown in 2016 and 2017.

Friday was a rematch of last year’s Section 3A final, which Minneota won 82-74. The Vikings went on to finish third in the Class A state tournament.

The two teams met once this year, with the Vikings defeating the Eagles 75-49.

Minneota 21 65Southwest Christian 27 47