Alexis Long's free throw with 23 seconds left in Maranatha Christian's 49-37 Class 1A championship game victory over Mountain Iron-Buhl drew a loud ovation from the Mustangs' contingent at Target Center. But it was a whisper compared to the roar she received minutes earlier.
Her three-pointer with 4 minutes, 12 seconds remaining started a 9-2 run that closed out the game and assured Maranatha (28-5) a repeat.
Long, a senior guard, showed the result of a hard-fought championship game with tears in her eyes and scrapes on her arms and legs.
"I'm crying because it's over," she said. "This is the way I wanted to go out, with two championships in a row. It's definitely one of the most physical games we've been in all year.
"Those are kind of fun, you know? See who is the toughest."
Long's sweet shooting touch resulted in a game-high 15 points -- "I was open; just give me the ball and I'll put it in," Long said of her clutch shot -- but perhaps more instrumental was her defense. She helped force 15 Rangers turnovers in the first half, and 24 for the game that led to 17 Mustangs points.
"We always like to attack on defense and get as many extra possessions as we can," Long said.
They were needed against a Mountain Iron-Buhl team that was down by as many as 12 but roared back at every turn until the final few minutes.
The Rangers (31-2) held Maranatha to its lowest point total of the season and outrebounded the defending champs 54-34 but couldn't pull through.
Outside shooting was paramount for Maranatha, which connected on six three-pointers; Mountain Iron-Buhl made one.
"Just a gritty, grind-it-out game," Mustangs coach Jim Hammond said. "We made [shots] when we had to have them. And they were big when we made them. I'm just blessed -- humbled. I'm just an average coach with awesome players. That's the bottom line."
Dakotah Winans had 12 points and 14 rebounds for the Rangers but also committed 10 turnovers.
"They run at you, jump at you and are aggressive and we knew it coming in," Rangers coach Jeff Buffetta said. "I don't know if it's intimidating, it's just fast."