Maranatha holds on, returns to Class 1A title game

  • Article by: JIM PAULSEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 17, 2012 - 1:55 AM

The Mustangs and junior center Onye Osemenam regained their poise in time to repel a Spring Grove comeback, and will go for a 1A repeat against Mountain Iron-Buhl.

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Maranatha center Onye Osemenam had missed six consecutive free throws and, frankly, not one was close.

Meanwhile, Spring Grove had cut a 12-point Maranatha lead to one point with 27 seconds remaining.

A foul sent Maranatha's Alexis Long to the free-throw line. Long made the first one but missed the second, giving Spring Grove a chance.

But Osemenam stretched her 6-2 frame, snatching the rebound. Her ensuing layup helped the defending Class 1A champions hold off Spring Grove, the smallest school in the tournament, 65-61 Friday.

"It was all instinct," Osemenam said of the biggest of a game-high 17 rebounds. "I just put it in the Lord's hands and he helped me come through."

Until then, Spring Grove -- enrollment 89 -- looked headed for a second consecutive remarkable comeback. The Lions had rallied from a 10-point deficit in the quarterfinals to beat Warren-Alvarado-Oslo in overtime.

Lions fans roared as Spring Grove relentlessly pressured Maranatha's guards in the final seven minutes of the second half. Maranatha fans implored their team for just one big play.

"We were shaky," Maranatha coach Jim Hammond admitted.

Earlier, Maranatha was content to shoot over the top of the Spring Grove defense. The Mustangs hit a tournament record-tying 11 three-pointers, six by guard Madison Lee.

As the perimeter pressure halted the long-range bombing, Osemenam took over. She controlled the interior and took away second-chance opportunities, despite her free-throw struggles.

"When she was younger, she might have gotten down on herself," Hammond said. "But she's a mature junior now. She didn't let things bother her."

Mountain Iron-Buhl 49, Ada-Borup 45

Mountain Iron-Buhl's defense and depth, its calling cards all season, keyed the Rangers' victory Friday and a first-ever berth in the title game.

The Rangers' size advantage contributed indirectly in the first half at Target Center. With Ada-Borup concerned with stopping their two 6-footers, Allie Knuti and Kathy Ostman, lanes to the basket were frequently open. Guards Dakotah Winans, Mya Buffetta and Sarah Overbye combined for 14 points as the Rangers took a 23-15 halftime lead.

"They were worried about stopping our big players inside, so we took advantage of the openings that were left," Rangers coach Jeff Buffetta said.

Ada-Borup coach David Smart decided at halftime to force the issue a bit.

"We were looking to take the ball to the basket a little more,'' Smart said. "Try to get to the free-throw line."

As Ada-Borup attacked, fouls on Mountain Iron-Buhl began to pile up. The Cougars ended up with 21 free-throw attempts, converting 13.

Mountain Iron-Buhl (31-1) continuously ran fresh players into the game and pressured Ada-Borup. Winans held Cougars guard Taylor Kujava to six points, 12 below her season average.

"She does a great job, always taking the other team's best or second-best player," Buffetta said. "The team effort of our defense was great."

Winans also scored 12 points, including a free throw that gave the Rangers a two-possession lead with 11.6 seconds left.

"We're just the little school that no one expected and now we get to play for the state championship," Winans said. "There are just no words for this."

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