Park Center spent the first half of its 68-53 Class 3A quarterfinal victory over Simley dealing with a serious case of nerves. The Pirates spent the second half looking much more like the team that earned the tournament's No. 1 seed.
"First-half jitters?" asked Park Center coach Chris VanderHyde, whose team was making its first girls' basketball state tournament appearance. "I had first-half jitters, I know that."
With a pair of 6-foot-plus forwards in Abby Kain and Kylie Brown, it was assumed that Simley would attempt to beat the shorter Pirates inside. At least, that's what VanderHyde thought. But Simley guards Maria Paulsen and Maya DeLao found the freedom on the perimeter too good to pass up and helped the Spartans build a nine-point lead that eventually became a 30-26 halftime advantage.
"I had to ditch our game plan because it wasn't working," VanderHyde said. "We were sagging off of them, thinking they'd go to their big girls."
The change in defensive strategy opened things up on the other end of the court for Park Center (24-5). All-Metro forward Cayla McMorris started finding a groove, and her teammates took turns making their mark. The Pirates outscored Simley 42-23 in the second half.
McMorris had 24 points, 16 after halftime, and 14 rebounds. Mikayla Hayes, daughter of former Gopher Dana Joubert-Hayes, added 16 points. McKenna DuBois keyed the go-ahead rally by hitting back-to-back three-pointers.
"It allowed us to move around a little more, play more free," VanderHyde said.
Brown scored 14 points to lead the Spartans (22-8).
Staying ahead the whole way
Minneapolis Washburn 62, Monticello 53: The Millers built an early lead, then rolled with the punches Monticello threw, holding off the determined Magic.
Washburn, a Class 2A tournament team in 2013, never trailed, maintaining a first-half lead of as many as eight points behind the play of Metro Player of the Year Chase Coley. But Monticello never let the Millers get comfortable.
"That's something that we've done all year," said Washburn coach Tylor Coley, Chase's father. "We are a team that relaxes. We get a lead, then we relax. We have to get better at putting teams away."
Coley, who is listed at 6-3 but seems taller, scored 29 points, grabbed 14 rebounds, blocked three shots and forced Monticello to give up on its inside game.
Monticello cut the lead to two points twice in the second half behind forward Emily Gruber's 24 points.
Washburn regained control behind Natalie Holdahl's three three-pointers in the second half. "She's our X-factor," Chase Coley said. "We bring her in for her basketball IQ. When we get shots like those out of her, it's huge."