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Section 3A girls basketball: Southwest qualifies for state

Aaron HagenDaily Globe MARSHALL -- It's been a season for the ages for the Southwest Christian girls basketball team.The Eagles won the Red Rock Conference with a perfect 16-0 record. They won the most games in school history.And on Thursday nigh...

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TIM MIDDAGH/DAILY GLOBE The Southwest Minnesota Christian bench and fans erupt as the closing seconds elapse in the Eagles’ Section 3A girls basketball championship victory over Wabasso Thursday night.

Aaron Hagen
Daily Globe

MARSHALL - It’s been a season for the ages for the Southwest Christian girls basketball team.
The Eagles won the Red Rock Conference with a perfect 16-0 record. They won the most games in school history.
And on Thursday night, they can add one more line to this season’s resume: State tournament qualifiers.
Southwest Christian (27-1) held off Wabasso 78-71 Thursday night in the Section 3A finals at the R/A Facility on the campus of Southwest Minnesota State University to qualify for the state tournament for the first time since 2010.
“It’s awesome,” SWC’s Ann Pater said shortly after cutting down the net. “I’ve never experienced this feeling before.”
The Rabbits (20-7) fell short despite the efforts of Morgan Frank, who finished with a game-high 40 points to go with 15 rebounds. She scored 25 of those points in the first half.
“We really wanted to push the ball and do our transition game,” Pater said. “We wanted to stop Frank. She was a good player. She gets what she wants and she gets the position she wants. She was really good.”
Pater led the Eagles with 23 points and six rebounds.
“I was a little nervous because I’m a little sick, but it was good,” Pater said. “We played well together.”
Chantel Groen finished with 21 points and seven rebounds, while Hope Veldkamp finished with eight points, eight assists and seven steals for SWC.
“I just played my hardest,” Groen said. “It’s a team effort. I wouldn’t get the points I do if it wasn’t for my team.”
After leading by a point at halftime, Wabasso scored the first basket of the second half to lead 36-33.
“The first half, we have a little struggle on defense,” Groen said. “But in the second half, we just came out our hardest and knew we needed to win. We all wanted this, so we tried our hardest and played our hardest no matter the outcome.”
However, Groen scored the next four points, Hope Veldkamp converted a steal into a layup, Brooklyn DeKam made a shot and Pater capped the 10-0 run with a shot inside as the Eagles led 43-36.
“Jerry Schnyders, my assistant coach, always says, ‘First five, first five,’” SWC head coach Denise Nerem said of the half’s first five minutes. “It’s always so important when you come out halftime, those first five minutes always set the tone with what the half is going to look like.”
Frank answered with seven straight points and Maddy Guetter made a shot, giving Wabasso the lead. Pater responded with two straight baskets to start a 9-0 run that gave the Eagles a 52-45 advantage.
Southwest Christian wouldn’t trail again.
“We didn’t feel like we did everything right, but at this stage of the game, you just have to be enough,” Coach Nerem said. “We were just barely enough with Frank tonight, she just did a tremendous job. She almost single-handedly put her team on her back and won that game for them.”
Wabasso had the deficit down to a single possession on six different occasions, but each time, the Eagles made the key play, often breaking the Rabbit press to get easy looks in transition.
With 3:32 remaining, Wabasso’s Allie Benz hit a free throw as the Rabbits were within two points. However, Pater made a layup and Groen made a shot, pushing the lead to six points. But the Rabbits came back, and after an offensive rebound put back by Frank, the Rabbits were once again within two.
But Emily Nerem made a free throw and Veldkamp made two as the Eagles led 74-69 with 24 seconds remaining.
Guetter made two free throws with 13.6 seconds remaining as the Rabbits were still within striking distance, 74-71.
But Groen and Pater each made two free throws in the final 11 seconds, sealing the trip to state for SWC.
“We are all very excited,” Groen said. “We’ve been planning this since the beginning of our season, so we’ve been hoping for this day. It’s meant a lot to us because we’ve all been pretty close and it’s just been overjoying for everyone. We’ve just been connecting as a team.”
Early in the game, it looked like Southwest Christian might run away with it. Following a pair of shots by Pater to cap a 6-0 run, the Eagles had an 18-8 lead.
“I thought we’d really break that open and get a little separation,” Coach Nerem said. “But on the other side, no, it’s tournament time. We prepare like that, we prepared like it’s going to be down to the wire. We work on situations a lot here at the end of the season.”
However, Frank made sure SWC wouldn’t get too big of a lead. After Jocelyn Rothmeier made a triple, Frank scored 21 of the Rabbit’s next 23 points in the final nine minutes as Wabasso led 34-33 at halftime. But it was SWC that closed out the second half to win Section 3A.
“I’m hoping we get farther in state than the first round, but whatever we do, we still made it to state,” Groen said. “Our whole team is proud of that.”
“We have to come out tomorrow in practice and get ready for the next game,” Pater added. “We want to get a championship.”
The Eagles will now await their opponent for the state tournament, which begins Thursday in Minneapolis.
“There’s a lot of schools that never get there, so we don’t take that for granted,” Coach Nerem said. “We are blessed beyond measure and our cup is overflowing. We are really, really pleased.”
Southwest Christian 33 78
Wabasso 34 71
SOUTHWEST CHRISTIAN (3FG-2FG-FT-TP) - Veldkamp 0-3-2-8, Pater 0-9-5-23, Vreeman 0-2-1-5, E. Nerem 0-2-1-5, DeKam 1-1-1-6, Homendberg 0-1-0-2, Talsma 0-4-0-8, Groen 0-9-3-21. Totals 1-31-13-78.
WABASSO (3FG-2FG-FT-TP) - Benz 0-1-1-3, Rothmeier 1-5-1-14, Guetter 0-6-2-14, M. Frank 1-16-5-40. Totals 2-28-9-71.

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