Girls Basketball: Wingers escape to the Section 1AAA finals
The way the game started for Red Wing, with Macy Kelly's 3-pointer bouncing around the rim and falling in for the first points of the game, it looked like the Wingers might be in for another easy Section 1AAA victory Saturday against Austin.
Red Wing forced the Packers into four turnovers in their first five possessions and held a 7-0 lead out of the gate.
Simple, right? Not quite.
The top-seeded Wingers were pressured and tested by fourth-seeded Austin but escaped with a 61-57 win in Red Wing.
"I give all the credit to Austin. They had nothing to lose," Red Wing head coach Dave Muelken said. "We told the girls, 'You win or you go home.' We get to go on and that's what counts."
The Packers put up plenty of fight and got the Wingers into foul trouble immediately. Red Wing was also dealing with sickness throughout the team, Muelken said.
"It's not an excuse," he said, "but we weren't at 100 percent."
Tesha Buck, Macy Kelly and McKayla Muelken all played through illness Saturday night, Dave Muelken said.
Buck still led the Wingers with 23 points despite shooting just 7 of 20 from the field and 2-for-10 from behind the 3-point line. She also had eight rebounds, five assists and four steals. Buck's shooting woes early didn't keep her from 15 points in the second half and eight points in the final 6 minutes, 10 seconds of regulation.
"I'm not sure she's at 50 percent," Dave Muelken said. "She's really sick. She wasn't at practice yesterday."
Kelly added 15 points and five rebounds after missing practice Thursday. McKenzie Muelken dealt with foul trouble most of the game but finished with 10 points and eight rebounds, including four offensive rebounds. Kara Norvet had five points and eight rebounds and McKayla Muelken tallied four points, two rebounds and two steals off the bench.
"I didn't plan on playing her that much," Dave Muelken said of McKayla, an eighth grader. "We needed her. She grew up today."
McKayla was forced to play extended minutes when McKenzie and McKenna Schaffer each picked up three fouls in the first half and four fouls quickly after halftime. McKayla didn't play like an eighth grader Saturday night.
"It was nerve-racking but exciting," McKayla said. "It's not like traveling basketball anymore. This is the big girls' league."
In the first five minutes against Austin, Red Wing looked like the top team in the section. The Packers committed six turnovers and the Wingers built a 13-3 lead at with 13 minutes, 28 seconds left in the opening half.
Then, Red Wing started giving the mistakes back and Austin crept back in the game at 19-15 due in part to Packers' physical play.
"How they called the game early created a physical game," Dave Muelken said.
A 7-3 run put the Wingers back with a comfortable lead but they continued to turn the ball over and giving up easy baskets in transition. The Packers turned the ball over 13 times in the first half but Red Wing only led 32-26 at the break.
The Wingers scored first out of halftime before Austin went on a 9-0 run and grabbed its first lead of the night at 35-34 with 15:42 left in the second half. The lead was short-lived as Kelly and Buck responded with four points to go back in front for good.
The Packers pulled within a point on three different occasions in the final 10:30 of the game and Red Wing's largest lead with 56-47 with 2:32 remaining. Steph Justice, who led Austin with 16 points, cut the deficit to 60-57 with 3.4 seconds left but Buck followed with 1 of 2 free throws to seal the victory.
In the Section 1AAA finals Friday at the Mayo Civic Center in Rochester, the Wingers will face a familiar foe in third-seeded Kasson-Mantorville. Red Wing defeated the KoMets twice earlier in the regular season and in last year's section finale. The game will begin at 6 p.m.
"We watched both films," Dave Muelken said of preparing for K-M. "It's up to us to bring that energy and intensity. We're both 2-0 (in playoffs). We're going to have to line up and play."