Marshall's Sarah Buysse walked to the free-throw line late in Thursday's tight game, steeling herself for two big shots.
"I was thinking, 'I've done this a million times. Just do what you normally do,' " Buysse said.
Swish, swish. Her foul shots — Buysse was 9-for-9 from the line for the game — helped the No. 4-seeded Tigers complete a 55-48 upset victory of No. 1 seed Orono in a Class 3A girls' basketball semifinal at Williams Arena. With the victory, Marshall returns to the title game after taking second last season.
The experience gained from last season's run made a huge difference against wide-eyed Orono. Marshall (29-2), shooting and rebounding with purpose, jumped to a 35-20 halftime lead.
"We gave it away in the first 10 minutes," Spartans coach Ellen Wiese said. "They're too good of a team to let them get that big of a lead."
In their locker room underneath the arena, Marshall players were not fooled by their large halftime lead.
"We knew we had to keep strong and keep pushing," said Buysse, who led the Tigers with 13 points.
Responding to Wiese's pleas for better defense, the Spartans opened the second half on a 14-2 run and cut Marshall's advantage to 37-34 with 12:16 remaining. The Tigers were struggling to play with the same urgency after halftime, while Orono (29-2) surged.
"I thought we played an outstanding second half," Wiese said.
Its lead down to three points, Marshall recovered and never again allowed Orono to make it a one-possession game.
"I thought we had what it took to get back in it," Wiese said. "But it was too big of a hole against too good of a team."
Park Center 47, Kasson-Mantorville 37: Strong interior Kasson-Mantorville defense and foul trouble limited Park Center sophomore Mikayla Hayes so she deployed a seldom-used weapon.
Hayes hit a rare three-pointer to extend the game's definitive run. The Pirates won the semifinal game and earned the right to defend their Class 3A title. They meet Marshall in a championship-game rematch on Saturday at Williams Arena.
"I knew if I made it, it would help the team, so I'm glad I took the shot," Hayes said.
Hayes leads No. 2 seed Park Center (24-7) in scoring, averaging 15.3 points per game mostly on post moves and short jump shots. Thursday saw her score nine points, three of them on a shot off the backboard to extend a 10-2 run. Hayes is 6-for-19 from the three-point arc this season.
"I don't know if she called glass on that or not, but I've see her make that shot a lot, so I have every bit of confidence," Pirates coach Chris VanderHyde said.
Kasson-Mantorville (29-3) also displayed mental fortitude, playing tough despite not having a seed or point guard Cori Kennedy. The second-leading scorer in program history was injured in the quarterfinals.
"My heart breaks for Cori because I know what it's like to have a team go through that," said VanderHyde, who lost point guard Hannah Schaub to an injury last season.
Kennedy's teammates battled the defending champs to a draw with 7:41 to go in the game. Sophomore center Kristin Scott tied the score 32-32 with two of her game-high 19 points.
"We knew we had to keep going," Scott said. "We never let up."