PREP GIRLS' BASKETBALL: Late comeback gives FHS wild win over Dragons
MARSHALL -- After trailing for nearly all of the first 35 minutes of the Section 3A South high school girls' basketball championship game Friday night, the top-seeded Fulda Raiders rallied to score seven straight points in the final 52 seconds an...
MARSHALL -- After trailing for nearly all of the first 35 minutes of the Section 3A South high school girls' basketball championship game Friday night, the top-seeded Fulda Raiders rallied to score seven straight points in the final 52 seconds and prevailed with an exciting 38-34 victory over the second-seeded Adrian Dragons at Southwest Minnesota State University's R/A Facility.
Fulda, which improves to 23-6 with the sub-section championship victory, advances to the Section 3A title game for the first time since 2007. The Raiders will now take on the North's top-seeded Minneota Vikings (24-1 record, 51-40 sub-section championship victory over second-seeded Canby) next Friday in Marshall at 5 p.m.
Fulda has now won Section 3A South six times in the last 10 years, as the Raiders also won in 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006 and 2007. Minneota, which defeated Fulda 55-52 on Feb. 5, claimed a triple-overtime victory (68-65) against the Raiders in the 2005 section championship game.
"I am extremely happy for our girls," Fulda head coach Gregg Slaathaug said after the game. "We didn't quit when things weren't quite going our way in the first half and then we regained some composure in the second half. We kept on playing great defense and never gave up, which is why we ended up having a chance to win the game."
Adrian finishes a fine season with a record of 22-6, but the Dragons led all the way and seemed poised to possibly return to the section finals for the first time since 2009. Adrian jumped out to an impressive 11-0 lead four minutes into the game and later held a 28-20 advantage with less than nine minutes remaining in the second half.
But it was Fulda that made more plays down the stretch in a defensive-oriented game featuring two evenly-matched teams that battled all season long for the Red Rock Conference championship, and fittingly, met for a third time in early March.
The Raiders also topped the Dragons in a pair of close games during the regular season, winning 67-64 in overtime at Fulda on Jan. 4 and winning 58-53 at Adrian on Feb. 17. Fulda won the league crown with a 16-1 record, finishing one game ahead of Adrian's 15-2 mark.
Dragons take control early
The third time looked like it might be the charm early for the Dragons, as Adrian scored on five of its first six possessions and got five straight defensive stops to bolt out to an 11-0 lead at the 14:08 mark of the first half.
Nichole Loosbrock netted two free throws, Austyn Thier scored inside, and Sydne Springman fired in a 3-pointer from the right corner for Adrian's initial seven points. Thier (six points) scored again inside to make it 9-0 before Karli Meyer meshed a shot from the right elbow, as the Dragons were clicking.
"We played very well to begin the game," Adrian head coach Randy Strand said. "We took care of the ball and got some good looks at the basket, while also doing a nice job defensively. But we knew that it wasn't going to stay that way for too long against a team as good as Fulda."
The Raiders got on the board at the 13:51 mark, as Kassie Wilkening slipped inside and scored in the paint. Courtney Hulstein then drove through the lane for a basket, while Wilkening scored again -- switching hands nicely on a drive to the hoop -- to bring Fulda within five (11-6) with 12:27 showing.
Adrian, though, scored six of the next eight points and held a 17-8 lead with 9:41 to go. Thier hit a left-elbow shot, Jordin Kopplow knocked down a 12-footer in the lane, and Rachel Kontz drained an 18-footer along the right baseline to key the Dragons.
Hailee Heitkamp dialed in a long 3-pointer from the top of the key to give the Dragons a 22-13 lead at the 4:05 mark, while Courtney Hulstein (10 points, five assists and five steals) answered with a long trey of her own 17 seconds later -- completing the first-half scoring and creating a 22-16 halftime score in favor of Adrian.
Much like in the first half, the Raiders had trouble scoring early in the second half. Fulda, though, did score the first four points (an interior basket by Brittany Hulstein and two free throws by Tiffany Gehl) to make it 22-20 with 13:04 on the clock.
The Raiders also got seven consecutive defensive stops in that span, as Adrian didn't score until Meyer (nine points) converted on a 3-point play with 12:24 remaining.
That made it 25-20, and the Dragons went up 28-20 when Springman (nine points) swished a right-wing 3-pointer at the 11:11 mark.
Adrian, though, was unable to extend its lead any further. Fulda scored the next four points to trim the gap to 28-24, as Brittany Hulstein hit a free throw with 8:34 remaining and then rifled in a long 3-pointer from the top of the key after scooping up a loose ball with 7:57 to go.
Raiders complete comeback
Meyer answered by going coast-to-coast and hitting a pull-up bank shot from eight feet out to give Adrian a 30-24 lead with 7:23 to play, but Fulda went on a 7-1 run to tie the score for the first time since it was 0-0 in the game's opening 30 seconds.
Wilkening (nine points) hit one of two free throws before Courtney Hulstein scored twice on back-to-back possessions -- once on a smooth drive and once on a tough runner in the lane -- to make it 30-29 at the 6:04 mark.
A free throw by Springman put Adrian ahead 31-29 with 5:32 on the clock, but Fulda's Sabrina Raddle came up with a big offensive-rebound basket to even the score at 31 points apiece with 3:39 remaining.
Meyer netted two free throws 22 seconds later to put Adrian back up 33-31, and the Dragons got two key defensive stops before working nearly a minute off of the clock. Heitkamp was fouled and sank one of two free throws to lift Adrian to a 34-31 advantage with 1:07 left.
Brittany Hulstein (11 points, six steals) responded with a clutch 3-pointer from the top of key, as Fulda again tied the score (at 34) and called a timeout with 50.8 seconds remaining.
Gehl (six points, seven rebounds) then made the play of the game, as she stole a Dragon bounce pass at half-court and went in for a layup to give the Raiders their first lead (36-34) with 25 seconds to go.
Wilkening secured a defensive rebound on Adrian's ensuing possession, was fouled and dropped in a pair of free throws to put Fulda up 38-34 with 9.8 seconds left. The Dragons then missed a pair of shots, as the Raiders survived and will advance.
"Our team defense was fabulous, as we had good help from everybody," Slaathaug said. "Tiffany Gehl did an outstanding job of guarding Karli Meyer the entire game and then came up with a huge play in the final moments.
"But I also want to commend players like Sarah Strenge and our other girls who didn't get to play tonight," continued Slaathaug, who was recognized as the Section 3A South Coach of the Year. "Sarah and the rest of our reserves work hard every day in practice and help make everyone else better. This really is a total team accomplishment."
Adrian scored just 12 points in the second half, shooting 5-for-12 from the free-throw line and making just three field goals.
"We didn't make enough free throws to increase our lead and turned the ball over a few too many times late," summed up Strand. "Those were two big keys to the game. We played very well defensively and were in position to win, but we didn't execute the little things in crunch time."
Adrian 22 12 -- 34
Fulda 16 22 -- 38
Adrian (3FG-2FG-FT-TP): Heitkamp 1-0-1-4, Loosbrock 0-0-2-2, Kopplow 0-1-0-2, Kontz 0-1-0-2, Springman 2-1-1-9, A. Thier 0-3-0-6, Meyer 0-3-3-9. Totals: 3-9-7-34.
Fulda (3FG-2FG-FT-TP): Raddle 0-1-0-2, C. Hulstein 1-3-1-10, B. Hulstein 2-2-1-11, T. Gehl 0-2-2-6, Wilkening 0-3-3-9. Totals: 3-11-7-38.