DeLaSalle, Hopkins complete state championship three-peats

  • Article by: JASON GONZALEZ and JIM PAULSEN
  • Updated: March 17, 2013 - 12:42 AM

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The Hopkins “fist” slammed down one final opponent standing in the way of a third consecutive championship.

The Royals blew out Bloomington Kennedy 68-45 in the Class 4A girls’ basketball championship game at Target Center on Saturday night to claim title No. 3.

Hopkins star Nia Coffey held three fingers in the air after the game, along with the championship plaque. Though seemingly everyone else expected it, she never dreamed this day was a possibility.

“I never thought from the beginning I would have been here. To do it three times means a lot,” said Coffey, the Star Tribune Metro Player of the Year, after she collected 25 points, 16 rebounds, four blocks and even a steal.

Coach Brian Cosgriff called the senior forward special, but made sure to touch on other contributors: Taylor Anderson scored 11 points, Mikaala Shackelford added seven, Erin O’Toole grabbed nine rebounds, and Nia Hollie chipped in six points. Together they were the “fist” taking blows at the opposition all year.

“We’re five people coming together on the court to form a fist,” Shackelford said. “If one finger or person sticks out, it’s hard to throw a punch.”

Hopkins’ knockout blow connected at the end of the first half and carried long into the second.

The Royals (31-1) gained control with a 23-1 run, going from trailing 25-20 with 3:24 left in the first half to leading 43-26 with 12:36 remaining in the second.

Senior forward Jade Martin led Kennedy (28-4) with 19 points but didn’t get into double digits until midway through the second half, when she scored the Eagles’ first field goal of the second half with 9:22 left in the game.

“They were getting second chances and we couldn’t box out. [That run] was hard,” Kennedy junior guard Kenisha Bell said.

The Royals’ full-court pressure gave the Eagles problems all night. Kennedy had an answer for it in the first half and even managed a slim lead, but Hopkins wouldn’t relent and Kennedy eventually broke down.

Coffey scored Hopkins’ first points in each round of the state tournament but this time never hit a lull. She had a double-double (12 points, 10 rebounds) in the first half alone.

The biggest of her baskets was the three-pointer she netted just before halftime. Kennedy led for most of the final six minutes of the half until Coffey’s three with 1:09 left gave the Royals a 28-26 halftime edge.

The two teams met in the first week of the season and Hopkins squeaked by 65-61 on the road at Kennedy. At the time, Bell felt as if the Eagles had a few more minutes it would have been a different result.

They got 36 more minutes Saturday — and couldn’t keep up.

Hopkins became the first Class 4A school to win three consecutive championships since the tournament expanded to four classes.

Said Cosgriff: “This might be my all-time favorite [championship] because of all the pressure we had on us.”

DeLaSalle 65, Red Wing 50

A journey that began when Tyseanna Johnson and Allina Starr were grade-school kids came to a fitting close Saturday night as DeLaSalle defeated Red Wing 65-50 to win its third consecutive Class 3A girls’ basketball championship.

Johnson and Starr played together in youth basketball through junior high and into two high schools. They made five trips to the Class 3A tournament — four with DeLaSalle and one with Minneapolis North in 2009 when they were eighth-graders. Saturday’s title game at Target Center marked the final time the two suited up on the same team.

“I’m used to looking for her and she’s used to looking for me,” said Johnson, a forward who led the Islanders with 25 points. “It will be strange not to have her out there.”

That familiarity came up big when DeLaSalle (28-4) was struggling with the upstart Wingers (23-8).

After taking an early 12-point lead, the Islanders seemed to relax. The Wingers, showing the grit they displayed all tournament, rallied to tie the score 28-28.

A basket just before halftime by Natalie Eull gave the Islanders a 30-28 lead at intermission, but the defending champs appeared vulnerable.

“We lost focus in the first half,” said Starr, a senior guard.

She struggled with her shot and foul trouble, but still scored 20 points.

“We just had to calm down and relax.” DeLaSalle coach Faith Johnson Patterson, who has coached seven previous title winners, found the right way to deliver a message to her team.

“We didn’t play well,” Johnson Patterson said. “I said my little speech, then let Joi Jones do the talking.”

Jones, a starting guard until a knee injury in the playoffs ended her season, gave a passionate halftime speech. The senior scolded her teammates for underestimating the importance of the game.

“Joi talked to them and told them it was not OK. She said that she wished she could be out there and that they needed to do more,” Johnson Patterson said. “She got through to them where I couldn’t.”

The Islanders took Jones’ words to heart, holding Red Wing to only six baskets after halftime.

In the meantime, Johnson and Starr carried the offensive load, combining for 27 of DeLaSalle’s 35 second-half points.

“They really picked up their defense in the second half,” said Red Wing’s Tesha Buck, the biggest victim of DeLaSalle’s defense. Buck was held to 13 points, 11 below her average. “Give them credit,” she said.

After the game, Johnson Patterson talked wistfully about seeing her two star players leave.

“They’ve been with me for so long,” she said. “It’s like watching your daughters leave.”

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