With a 56-39 victory, Sauk Centre is on its way to the state finals for the first time.
Parked two steps behind the NBA-range three-point line at Target Center, Sauk Centre's Kali Peschel gave serious thought to jacking up a shot midway through the first half. She shimmied her shoulders, juked the ball to her left and gave the defender a head fake, but she never shot the ball.
On her first attempt of the second half she had a similar look from Kevin Love territory, and this time she figured, why not give it a try?
Nothing but net.
"If I'm open, I'm going to shoot it," she said.
Shoot she did Friday night in the Class 2A semifinals, and helped with a strong defensive effort along the way. Peschel, who missed most of the season recovering from a torn ACL, finished with 18 points and grabbed 12 rebounds to help lead the Mainstreeters to their first appearance in a state championship game after a 56-39 victory over previously undefeated New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva.
Sauk Centre (27-4) led by as much as 12 late in the first half before allowing the Panthers (31-1) an 8-0 run to close out the first 18 minutes.
The momentum didn't last.
Strong all game on defense -- particularly Peschel and Jena Klaphake -- the Mainstreeters shut out NRHEG for the first seven minutes of the second half while building an 18-point lead in the process. Peschel's long-range three came during that stretch.
"I don't really look at where I am -- sometimes maybe I shouldn't shoot it -- but I know I can hit from that range," the 6-1 Iowa-bound guard said. "I practice it. I feel comfortable with it."
A big lead sure helps, and the Mainstreeters got theirs thanks to shut-down defense, especially on Panthers sophomore Carlie Wagner. She went off for 43 points against defending state champion Braham in the quarterfinals and finished with a game-high 21 on Friday, but she made just three field goals in the second half.
The Panthers as a whole shot 23 percent, making only one field goal the final 7:15.
"They just weren't falling," NRHEG coach John Schultz said. "Off the mark. They didn't let it affect their effort, but you could see some shoulders dropping here and there. It was frustrating."
Three locker rooms down it was a much different story, as coach Scott Bergman's voice echoed through the hallway.
"We're going to the 'ship!"
Macy Weller also finished with 18 points for the Mainstreeters. Ashley Gruber added 10.Providence Academy 61, Pequot Lakes 32
It was the last thing either team needed, but Nathalie Ratliff had a wide-open lane to run through as the last seconds of the first half melted away. So she willed a teardrop shot through the hoop as the buzzer sounded to make it a 28-point lead at the half, personifying a blatantly one-sided victory.
Ratliff shared a high-five with a teammate as they ran to the locker room, and gave a "thank goodness" look.
Not that the game was ever much in doubt.
The teams traded baskets to start off, and it was a one-team show from there. The Lions (27-4) earned a spot in the Class 2A championship by scoring 21 points off 13 Patriots turnovers. Pequot Lakes (20-12) made just two field goals in the first half.
Despite sitting the final 13 minutes of the game, AnnMarie Healy led all scorers with 15 points. Ratliff scored 13 for the Lions while Taylor Finley added 11.
|Minnesota - LP: V. Worley||3||FINAL|
|Atlanta - WP: P. Maholm||8|
|Cincinnati - WP: A. Simon||7||FINAL|
|NY Mets - LP: B. Parnell||4|
|Los Angeles - WP: H. Ryu||9||FINAL|
|Milwaukee - LP: W. Peralta||2|
|Oakland - LP: J. Parker||1||FINAL|
|Texas - WP: R. Wolf||3|
|Arizona - LP: T. Cahill||1||FINAL|
|Colorado - WP: J. De La Rosa||4|
|Washington - WP: T. Clippard||2||FINAL|
|San Francisco - LP: J. Affeldt||1|
|Tampa Bay - LP: C. Ramos||3||FINAL|
|Toronto - WP: A. Loup||4|
|Chicago Cubs||0||Top 9th Inning|
|NY Yankees||2||Bottom 8th Inning|
|Philadelphia||3||Bottom 9th Inning|
|Boston||2||Bottom 5th Inning|
|Kansas City||1||Top 6th Inning|
|St. Louis - T. Lyons||9:10 PM|
|San Diego - B. Smith|
|Pittsburgh||7||3rd Prd 8:40|