After a one-year hiatus, Hopkins’ talented band of juniors helped the Royals return to Target Center.

Hopkins, which won three consecutive state titles from 2011 to 2913, routed Minnetonka 81-55 in the Class 4A, Section 6 championship at Minneapolis Roosevelt to qualify for a ninth state tournament. Last year, Hopkins fell 51-46 to Eden Prairie in the section semifinal.

“It feels really good to be back,” said junior guard Ashley Bates. “We’re sending a message. We’re winning state.”

Leading 39-21 at the half, No. 1-ranked Hopkins (27-1) used a 6-0 run to start the second half and led by as many as 29 points as it held fourth-ranked Minnetonka (22-6) at arm’s length for the majority of the game.

“We were really hungry,” Bates said. “We wanted to make it last year. It motivated us to do it this year.”

Bates and fellow juniors Nia Hollie and Evelyn Knox combined for 48 points, with Bates leading all scorers with 22.

Hopkins senior guard TT Starks, who will be making her fourth trip to state, scored 16 points, including a first-half-best 12.

“We didn’t want a replay of last year,” Starks said “We definitely used that as motivation.”

The Skippers made it a seven-point game with 8:10 remaining in the first half when Hannah Hedstrom set up Caroline Shelquist for a layup that made it 23-16 Royals. But Hopkins pulled away. Courtney Fredrickson led Minnetonka with 10 points.

The Royals have five state championship titles under current coach Brian Cosgriff. Minnetonka has one state tournament berth, in 1999.

“It’s a great feeling to know that we did it without the Nia Coffeys, without the great players we’ve had in the past,” Starks said. “It’s great to know we got there, but we can’t be satisfied. We have three games left.”