Girls Basketball: Wildcats back in 1A title game
ROCHESTER – With every grimacing facial expression after a missed shot or another forced turnover, Goodhue knew it had Blooming Prairie right where they wanted them.
“Body language can say a lot. You could tell they were definitely frustrated and I think they were tired,” said Wildcats’ head coach Josh Wieme.
For a team that prides itself on a high-pressured defense like Goodhue, every frustrated face on the Awesome Blossoms acted as a pick-me-up.
“I find it very rewarding to see other players putting their head in their hand,” said senior guard Mikayla Miller. “It’s not a very nice thing to say, but once you know you can fluster a team, I think that’s almost a confidence booster, like, ‘OK, we’re in their heads, we can control the game from now on.’”
With the defense forcing No. 3 seed Blooming Prairie into 20 turnovers, the top-seeded Wildcats held on for a 54-42 victory in the Section 1A-West championship game and will head to the section final for the first time since 2011.
The win was a relief for Goodhue after seeing its last two seasons come to a close at the sub-section final.
“I am so happy to be wearing this right now,” said Wildcats senior Meredith Watson, holding up her sub-section championship medal. “Last year, there were some broken hearts from that game, and this year has given us so much hope. And if we win the next game, wow, that would be so amazing.”
No. 1-ranked Goodhue (24-5) will take on the top seed in the East sub-section, Rushford-Peterson, in the 1A championship game at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Mayo Civic Arena. The Trojans (23-4) advanced to the finals with a 34-20 win against Fillmore Central.
From the onset of Saturday’s 1A-West final, Goodhue took command with an 11-1 lead. Eventually, the Wildcats went into the locker room with a 27-10 halftime lead, limiting Blooming Prairie to four first-half field goals.
The Awesome Blossoms wanted to feed the ball inside to posts Taylor Hagen and Kalyn Naatz, but the post defense of Shelby Hinsch, Watson and Sydney Lodermeier made life a struggle for Blooming Prairie’s inside game.
“We needed to front 34 (Hagen) and make sure she didn’t get any lobs or easy looks,” said Lodermeier, who had two blocks shortly after entering the game midway through the first half to go with six points. “We had to make sure they worked for every point.”
Watson added, “We really needed to have hard ball pressure on the perimeter so the posts didn’t get the ball.”
But a team like the Awesome Blossoms would not go down quietly. With Madison Worke leading the way with 16 of her 21 points coming in the second half, Blooming Prairie whittled Goodhue’s lead down to 46-40 with 2 minutes, 5 seconds left.
“There was definitely a couple minutes of, ‘We got to pick it up. We have to step it into gear or else we were going to lose this game,'” said Watson, who had eight rebounds, four points and four steals. “They played really hard and they’re a good team.”
Wieme added, “They’re a good team. They’re not going to just go away, especially in the sub-section championship. They have good players; they got good shooters and good posts. ... A good team is going to make a push, so you got to withstand it and not succumb to it.”
Goodhue’s worry was short-lived as Miller scored back-to-back layups to make it 50-40 with 1:07 remaining. Then she went a perfect 4-for-4 from the free-throw line in the last minute to keep Blooming Prairie a safe distance away.
“We were worried about them coming back, but I never thought they would come back and tie this game,” said Miller, who finished with 30 points, 11 rebounds (7 offensive) and five steals. “We had the push and focus in our head that we would come out on top of this game.”
Kali Ryan scored all six of her points in the first half and grabbed five rebounds to aid the Wildcats’ cause.
Hagen, a verbal commit to Division I Northern Iowa, was held to nine points while Naatz was limited to seven points for the Awesome Blossoms, who finish the year at 19-8.