Minnehaha Academy turned nine minutes of nearly perfect basketball into a mountain that Annandale could not climb, beating the Cardinals 91-79 on Friday in the Class 2A semifinals at Target Center.
The Redhawks (25-6) got a career-high 29 points from guard Kaharri Carter and 23 from guard Jesse Johnson to advance to a state championship game for the first time in team history.
For the first nine minutes, Minnehaha Academy did a pretty reasonable impression of the Los Angeles Lakers, circa 1987. The Redhawks were running and gunning, making easy layups and long jumpers alike, building a lead over Annandale that reached as high as 26 points at 32-6.
But that wasn’t reality and Annandale showed that it, too, could play an up-tempo game.
The Cardinals rallied, taking advantage of Minnehaha’s sloppiness to cut the lead to 42-32 by halftime.
“We are a super-streaky team,” Minnehaha coach Lance Johnson said. “Even when things are going well, we have streaks where we kick the ball away. For the first 9 minutes, we were like the Lakers. For the next nine, we were like the Los Angeles Clippers of the same era.”
Annandale (21-10), feeling confident after the way it closed the first half, managed to cut the Redhawks’ lead to seven points, 47-40, on a three-point play by Matt Miller shortly after halftime, but that was as close as the Cardinals got.
Carter and Johnson combined for the next eight points to help Minnehaha regain control. The Redhawks stopped throwing the ball away, too.
“We might have lost a little focus there,” said Carter, the son of former Gophers forward Randy Carter, of the Redhawks’ slump in the latter stages of the first half. “That was our worst basketball all season. It was good to see us taking care of the ball better.”
Litchfield 72, Esko 47
Playing like Target Center was their home court, the Dragons made 14 three-pointers — three shy of a state record — and cruised over the Eskomos to reach the Class 2A championship game for the second consecutive year.
Litchfield (26-5) started hot and never cooled off. The Dragons made five three-pointers in a row early in the first half — four by senior guard Zach Whitchurch — to take a 17-3 lead.
Esko never got closer than 11 points after that. Whitchurch finished with a team-high 22-points.
“Well, we’ve played here, I think, five times in the past two years,” said coach John Carlson. “We’ve always been a good shooting team and this is a familiar setting.
“We made 14 of 22 on three-pointers and 14 of 25 on two-pointers,” Carlson said, smiling. “I guess we should have shot more threes.”
After a double-overtime victory over Redwood Valley in the quarterfinals, the Dragons also turned up the defensive pressure on Esko to avoid another tight game.
Esko’s leading scorer, Kory Deadrick, had just 10 points — 20 fewer than in the quarterfinals.
“Redwood Valley played great defense against us,” Carlson said. “We wanted to do to Esko what Redwood Valley did to us. And I think we did that.”