Sleepy Eye thrives in the underdog role.
For the second consecutive day the Indians turned to their senior leaders to upset a top-10 team, knocking off No. 2-ranked Mountain Iron-Buhl 63-48 in the Class 1A semifinals Friday at Target Center. They defeated No. 6-rated Ada-Borup/Norman County West in the quarterfinals, and now will play for Lyle/Pacelli for the state championship.
Neither team has won a state title.
"I don't think we've gotten the recognition we've deserved the entire season," Sleepy Eye coach Ryan Hulke said. "I'm so proud of them."
Three of Hulke's eight seniors — guards Madi Heiderscheidt, Brianna Polesky and Sarah Ibarra — combined for 55 points. The trio went 15-for-28 from the field, including eight three-pointers.
The two teams were tied at 33-all early in the second half when Sleepy Eye went on a 12-2 run to take control. Ibarra, who had 13 points, hit two threes and Polesky another in the run.
"I didn't think they would continue to shoot the three at a high percentage," Mountain Iron-Buhl coach Jeff Buffetta said. The Indians went 9-for-18 beyond the arc, 5-for-11 in the first half.
Even a rare five-point play while holding a five-point lead near the end of the first half didn't bother the Indians (28-4). Rangers junior guard Allie Negen hit a three-pointer while junior center Mattison Bennett was fouled under the basket. She made both free throws.
Heiderscheidt, who had a game-high 24 points, sank a three-pointer, the Indians' fifth of the half, five seconds before the intermission for a 26-23 lead.
"Everything is coming together for us," Heiderscheidt said. "We deserve this more than anybody in the world."
Senior forward Mary Burke's 15 points paced four Rangers (29-3) in double figures.
"Give Sleepy Eye credit," Buffetta said. "I was very impressed with them."
Lyle/Pacelli 53, Minneota 41: With 6-5 center Kristi Fett periodically double-teamed by Minneota's swarming defense, the No. 1–ranked Athletics used a balanced attack to knock off the Vikings.
"We just grinded it out, possession by possession," Lyle/Pacelli coach Justin Morris said. "That's championship basketball."
Forwards Olivia Christianson and Kendal Truckenmiller hit three-pointers around an offensive put back by Fett during a 12-3 run midway through the second half, giving the Athletics (31-1) a 40-30 lead. Fett closed the run with a layup as Minneota's defense moved further out on the perimeter. Minneota (26-5) couldn't get closer than six points the rest of the way.
"We have amazing three-point shooters," said Fett, who finished with 17 points — including seven free throws — 14 rebounds and seven blocked shots. "We have some kids who can ball."
Christianson finished with 13 points while Abigail Bollingberg added 10.
Minneota center Lydia Sussner, giving away 7 inches to Fett, posed all sorts of problems for Felt with her athleticism. Fett gave Sussner just as much trouble at the other end of the court. Sussner had 11 points.
"Fett is an intimidating player," Minneota coach Chad Johnston said. "She played good solid defense, and frustrated Lydia."
Said Fett: "[Lydia] was good at using her lower body. She was pushing me down low [in the post]."
Freshman guard Abby Hennen kept the No. 7-rated Vikings (26-5) in upset range, scoring 13 first-half points. She only had two points in the second half.