When top-seeded Hill-Murray took a two-goal lead on a score with 8.9 seconds left in the first period, it was an early turning point. Pioneers coach Bill Schafhauser agreed.

"It's not that we've been starting bad, but we've had a lot of games where we've been 0-0 or even down a goal after the first period," Schafhauser said after the Pioneers' 4-1 victory over No. 3 seed Elk River in the Class 2A, Section 4 championship game Friday night at Aldrich Arena. "And to be able to start strong like that in the first period really kind of helped settle everybody in."

It was junior Morgan Helgeson who scored the breakaway goal at the end of the first for the Pioneers (23-4-1), seconds after the Bears had a couple of quality scoring chances.

Junior Abigail Boreen got one of her two assists on the goal.

"Then in the locker room we were super pumped," Boreen said. "So I think that carried into the second period."

Freshman Nina Steigauf scored the first goal, and Lindsey Featherstone made it 3-1 for Hill-Murray in the second about two minutes after Bears junior Claudia Verkerke scored.

The Pioneers, ranked No. 2 in 2A, have won six consecutive games, and it's their sixth trip to the state tournament in seven years. They won back-to-back state titles in 2014 and 2015.

They are playing their best hockey at the right time, according to Schafhauser.