When there's a state championship on the line, a little hope and a lot of grit goes a long way.
Midway through the first half, with her team trailing top-seeded Minneota by three, Win-E-Mac senior guard Korbyn Ross sized up a three-point opportunity. It was open and the Patriots needed a boost, but Ross had struggled through the first two state tournament games.
She launched and she prayed. "I had a rough first couple of games, so I said, 'Please, please, please go in,' and it did," said Ross, who scored 17 points. "I think it loosened us up."
So much so that she hit another on her next trip downcourt, turning a deficit into a lead and sparking Win-E-Mac to a 61-53 upset victory over Minneota in the Class 1A state championship game.
Ross' three-pointers were the impetus, but the Patriots' championship was won by their defense. Defending champion Minneota had lost just once during the season, using an up-tempo offense and getting the ball inside to stellar junior forward Taylor Reiss. That worked early against Win-E-Mac's man-to-man defense.
But Win-E-Mac switched to a zone defense and Minneota's offense went from flowing to flummoxed.
The Patriots went on a 17-2 run, including Ross' three-pointers, taking a 29-19 lead that turned into a 35-26 halftime advantage. Normally sure-handed Minneota committed 12 turnovers before halftime.
"Way too many turnovers," Minneota coach Chad Johnston said. "I told them at halftime that 12 turnovers means 12 shots we didn't get to take. The way we shoot the ball, that was the difference."
The deficit ballooned to 15 early in the second half before the Vikings rallied. They cut the lead to two points, 52-50, with an 18-5 run.
"We had to keep our focus," Win-E-Mac sophomore guard Maddie McKeever said. "They're not the No. 1 seed in the tournament for nothing. We knew they could come back."
Win-E-Mac was able to stem the tide with leadership from guards Ross and McKeever and a late contribution by senior Ashley Glass, who came off the bench with the game in doubt and scored five points and grabbed four crucial rebounds.
"Korbyn really came up big, and Ashley, that's kind of what she does," said McKeever, who scored 27 points in the championship game after her 32 in the semifinals. "We did what we had to do, and that was show people that we can play basketball in northern Minnesota."