In the moments before the Elk River girls' basketball team took the floor for the Class 4A championship game Saturday, Elks coach Jeremy Digiovanni took the measure of his team.
"I could sense they were ready to play," he said. "They were loose. Not panicked. They were calm and focused."
What Digiovanni saw, the Elks showed, defeating Hopkins 64-60 in the first Class 4A girls' basketball championship game to feature two undefeated teams.
Often, highly anticipated games fail to live up to advance billing. This one was everything fans hoped to see and more. Both teams stayed with their starting lineups for nearly the entire game, and it showed in terms of quality and intensity.
Elk River (32-0) shot an impressive 56.1 percent from the floor (23-for-41) and was even better from the three-point arc, shooting at a 64.3 percent clip (9-for-14).
Elks guard Gabi Haack, the 2017 Star Tribune Metro Player of the Year, led the team with 25 points. Danielle Lachmiller scored 17 points, including a crucial free throw with 3.1 seconds left to give the Elks a four-point lead. Sidney Wentland added 16.
"They [shot] 60 percent from three. Any time you shoot like that, you've got a shot to win the ballgame," Hopkins coach Brian Cosgriff said.
Said Wentland: "We came in with high energy right away, and we knew what we had to do to get it done and we all believed we could do it. We made it happen."
The game proved worthy of its hype from the outset.
Hopkins broke out quickly behind junior center Angie Hammond, who scored six points en route to an 8-2 lead. Elk River answered back with a 14-4 run to take a 21-17 advantage.
Haack, the object of plenty of defensive attention in the first two games of the tournament, found room to maneuver in the first half, slashing to the basket and finishing strong. When the lane wasn't open, she proved equally adept from outside and finished the first half with 16 points.
Despite Elk River's impressive first half, Hopkins never let the Elks run away. Dlayla Chakolis made all four of her shots in the half and scored eight points. Freshman sensation Paige Bueckers, largely silent since scoring the game's first basket, scored six points at the end of the quarter to cut the lead to 35-30 at halftime.
Hopkins came out in the second half with a more aggressive mindset and rallied. The Royals eventually took their first lead since the early stages of the first half, going on an 8-1 run to lead 54-52.
But, as they had all game, the Elks came right back. A 9-2 run of their own gave them a 61-56 lead they never relinquished.
Hopkins (31-1) was led by 19 points from Bueckers and 13 from Chakolis. It's the second consecutive year the Royals lost in the finals to a senior-dominated opponent. In 2016, it was Minnetonka.
Despite another disappointment, Cosgriff was pleased with the entire experience.
"Honestly, this was a great game between two wonderful teams,'' he said. "This game was so good for girls' basketball."
Haack, Wentland and Lachmiller sat on the podium during the postgame news conference, half-smiling, half-bewildered.
"I'm kind of shocked," Haack said. "It didn't really hit me right away. It felt like another game until the awards ceremony. It's hard to explain."
Lachmiller found the words Haack was searching for.
"Pure happiness," Lachmiller said. "Just pure joy."