Minneota and Heritage Christian were mirror images of each other. The difference-maker in their Class 1A semifinal matchup was a matter of experience.
The No. 1-ranked Vikings, with all five starters back from last year's third-place squad, scored nine of the game's final 12 points to pull out a 55-50 victory over Heritage Christian on Friday at Williams Arena.
"Having that experience was key," Minneota coach Chad Johnston said. "When it came down to crunch time, they all stepped up."
Sophomore guard Abby Hennen made six consecutive free throws, giving the 29-1 Vikings a 52-48 lead with 1 minute, 7 seconds left. She was 8-for-8 from the free-throw line and scored a game-high 21 points. She also had eight rebounds and four assists.
"I struggled on my free throws [Thursday]," said Hennen, who was 5-for-9 from the line in the Vikings' 66-46 victory over Red Lake in the quarterfinals. "I had to focus more and be confident."
Junior guard Kirstin Robbins' basket with 5:17 left gave the No. 8-rated Eagles (27-3) a 47-46 lead. They didn't make another basket until 20 seconds remained. Robbins finished with a team-high 15 points.
"Our defense in the second half was excellent," Johnston said.
Minneota senior guard Morgan Kockelman limited Heritage Christian's career scoring leader, senior guard Taylie Scott, to six points. Scott was 0-for-5 from three-point range and didn't get to the free-throw line.
"Morgan is always going to be on somebody's No. 1 point guard," Johnston said. "She did a phenomenal job on a great basketball player."
Senior forward Emily Tostenson's basket with 13:46 left gave the Eagles a 40-33 lead. An 8-1 run by Minneota tied it at 41-all, setting the stage for a seesaw battle until Hennen stepped to the line.
"They have the No. 1 ranking for a reason," Heritage Christian coach Lori Crellin said.
Goodhue 47, Menahga 43: Freshman guard Joslyn Carlson's driving layup between two defenders with 21.9 seconds left broke a tie and propelled No. 3-ranked Goodhue (26-6) to victory.
"In a game like this you need to step up," Carlson said. She finished with 15 points on 6-for-10 shooting. "The play we called is made for me to drive."
Sophomore guard Arianna Thomforde added two clinching free throws with 3.1 seconds left. She had 12 points on 5-for-8 shooting.
"You have to give them credit," Menahga coach Cody Pulju said. "They made plays and we didn't."
The No. 5-ranked Braves (30-2) used an 11-4 run to start the second half to take a 37-28 lead with 11:43 left. Senior guard Cierra Ahlf capped the spurt with a three-pointer.
She and junior guard Tara Hendrickson each scored 12 points.
"Our defense sparked us," Goodhue coach Josh Wieme said. "We got a couple of turnovers that led to baskets."
Back-to-back steals and layups by Thomforde and sophomore guard Torrie Rehder capped a 10-run that gave the Wildcats a 38-37 lead. The tandem had seven of the Wildcats' 11 steals.
"We freaked out a little bit," Pulju said. "It was unfortunate that we couldn't quite pull it off."
Menahga also went 1-for-6 from the free-throw line in the second half. They missed the front end of three 1-and-1's, too.
"We make our free throws, and we win the game," Pulju said.
Goodhue went through the same scenario a day earlier, with turnovers, missed shots and missed free throws at the end of its 50-48 victory over Mountain Iron-Buhl.
"The experience of yesterday absolutely helped us." Wieme said. "You don't stop believing."