There was no panic on the Eastview bench. No concern, no worry.
Hopkins, behind a tremendous performance from Paige Bueckers, bolted out to a 13-point lead midway through the first half of the Class 4A girls' basketball championship game. A lesser team might have caved in.
Eastview proved it was far more determined than that. The Lightning absorbed the blow, steeled its reserve and set about the task of winning a state championship. Showing veteran poise, Eastview outfought and outplayed Hopkins during the game's final 28 minutes, rallying for a 68-63 victory Saturday at Target Center.
The Lightning completed a perfect 32-0 season and won their second state championship in five seasons. They had lost 10 of the previous 14 meetings between two teams, but they went into Saturday's game with the confidence of having defeated the Royals earlier this season, 66-56 in the St. Olaf Invitational holiday tournament on Dec. 29.
"Resiliency," Eastview coach Molly Kasper said. "When we had our pregame talk, we said they were going to come out throwing punches. But we battled back and got to that point where momentum was swinging our way."
Bueckers, the Star Tribune Metro Player of the Year, has been motivated all season by the memories of Hopkins' back-to-back championship game losses. She put the Royals (28-4) on her back early, doing just about anything she wanted to do offensively in the first half, scoring 23 of her game-high 37 points.
But Eastview never wavered and managed to cut Hopkins' lead to 33-30 by halftime. The Lightning did it with experienced composure, simply doing what they do best: execute their offense, dig in on defense and play a coolheaded game.
Eastview closed the half on a 10-3 run. The Lightning was buoyed by the fact they held Hopkins scoreless over the last 2 minutes, 44 seconds of the half, with even Bueckers missing her last two field-goal attempts.
Eastview has a star of its own in senior forward Megan Walstad, who managed to score 11 points and grab four rebounds before halftime, all while drawing the thankless task of guarding Bueckers.
"Hey, Paige is going to hit phenomenal shots. We talked about that," Kasper said. "She is probably going to be in the WNBA someday."
Walstad acknowledged that guarding Bueckers was a little frustrating, but it never distracted her from the team's ultimate goal.
"We just had to stay composed," she said. "She's a great player and it was a little frustrating when she would hit a shot and I felt like I was there. But I just relied on my teammates and pushed through."
Neither team gained much of an advantage through most of the second half, but Eastview eventually took the lead for good on a 9-1 run. Typically of the Lightning's style, three different players — Cassidy Carson, Mariah Alipate and Emma Carpenter — chipped in with points, giving Eastview a 56-50 lead.
Hopkins cut the lead to one at 64-63 with 34 seconds left, but couldn't score again. Walstad finished with 20 points and Alipate added 15 to lead Eastview, helping to offset Bueckers's 37-point splurge and Dlayla Chakolis' 15 for Hopkins, which lost in the Class 4A championship game for the third consecutive year.
"I said that I didn't think any team can stick with us for an entire 36 minutes of playing defense and our team-first mentality," Kasper said. "Luckily, we got to play a whole game like that."