Making program history wasn't expected of this Orono girls' basketball team. In fact, preseason projections for the Spartans were less than flattering.
But here they are. No. 1 seed Orono defeated No. 5 seed Alexandria 50-34 at Williams Arena in the Class 3A semifinals, earning its first championship game appearance.
Orono will play Winona at 6 p.m. Saturday on the same floor.
"It's absolutely amazing to be here," senior forward Natalie Smaron said. "It's kind of funny because last year we were supposed to have this championship team and this year we weren't even supposed to be here. We were supposed to have a losing record.
"Our new coach took us under her wing, taught us new plays and has just been great to us."
"I do have a 6-foot-6 wingspan so that's easy," Orono coach Lavesa Glover joked.
A relaxed mentality served the Spartans well all season, and they didn't change a thing Thursday.
"We don't have anything to lose," senior guard Tori Andrew said. "Have fun. Play your game. Even this game, we still don't have anything to lose, even though we're the No. 1 seed."
Andrew, Smaron and Orono's other starters did not leave the game until the final minute. The tireless Spartans beat Alexandria in various phases, whether scoring in the paint (20-10), off turnovers (12-7) or second-chance points (11-5).
Leading 24-20 at halftime, Orono outscored the Cardinals 16-5 through the first 8 minutes, 19 seconds of the second half. A "slow death," as Alexandria coach Wendy Kohler called it.
"They kind of wore us down and we weren't answering offensively," Kohler said. "But I think defensively we were tough and we gave everything we had."
Orono (26-4) got a game-high 18 points from Andrew while Alexandria (26-5) saw its shooting percentage plummet from 40 percent in the first half to less than 20 percent in the second.
Winona 58, Holy Angels 43: The No. 3-seeded Winhawks return to the title game after dethroning defending champion and No. 2 seed Holy Angels (26-4) in the semifinals.
Winona's victory avenged last's year title-game loss to the Stars. Perhaps too amped at times, the driven, senior-laden Winhawks (26-4) missed a few shots and a few passes early.
"It's Brett Favre-like, the first five passes that go over somebody's head," Winona coach Tim Gleason said.
Settling in, Winona spent much of the second half holding a double-digit lead. Guards Justine Schultz (14 points), Eden Nibbelink (12) and Maria Appicelli (10) provided balanced scoring.
Nibbelink hit from behind the three-point arc twice in each half.
"We have a lot of depth," Schultz said. "We don't just have to rely on one person. Everyone knows their role."
Holy Angels, located in Richfield, got 15 points and 13 rebounds from forward Destinee Oberg, but no other Stars player scored more than six points.
For the game, the Stars shot a paltry 23 percent.
"When we're us, not many teams can keep up with us," senior guard Megan Thompson said. "But today just wasn't our day."
Oberg, a 6-2 sophomore, considered Winona's front line among the best she's seen. The Winhawks returned the compliment.
"She knows how to use her body, square up and take smart shots," senior forward Danneka Voegeli said.