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Goodhue's Mikayla Miller (11) is swarmed by Minneota defenders Taylor Reiss (22) and Megan Larson during the second half of Friday's Class 1A state semifinal game at Williams Arena. The Wildcats fell to the defending state champion Vikings 45-43. (Republican Eagle photo by Joe Brown)

State Girls Basketball: Minneota dashes Goodhue's title hopes

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MINNEAPOLIS — In a heavyweight bout between two of Class 1A’s best, Minneota’s 1-2 combo was enough to finally knock out Goodhue.

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First, the gut punch: tied at 41-41 with 16 seconds left in Friday’s state semifinal, the Wildcats called timeout and set up an inbounds pass. But on the throw, Vikings junior post Taylor Reiss stole the ball, raced down the court, scored a layup and drew a foul for the 43-41 lead.

“(The Goodhue player) kind of lost the ball a little bit and I went after it and got it,” Reiss said. “I just had to contain my composure all the way to the basket and I made my layup.”

Then, the knockout blow: Reiss missed the free throw, but teammate Megan Larson was there for the rebound and the definitive putback that put Minneota up by four. As the clock struck zero at Williams Arena, the Vikings got back into the state title game with a 45-43 victory.

“That was a very, very huge rebound out of (Larson),” said Minneota head coach Chad Johnston. “I’ve been trying to encourage her over and over again that she’s an athlete. She sometimes second guesses herself but she has all the tools to do a lot of good things. She shined at the end and made the play she needed to make.”

With the loss, Goodhue (26-6) will play in the third-place game at 10 a.m. Saturday against Mankato Loyola at Concordia University-St. Paul.

The top-ranked and fourth-seeded Wildcats were outrebounded by top-seeded and second-ranked Minneota 45-29. And in the deciding moment of Friday’s slugfest, the defending 1A champion’s ability on the boards was the deciding edge.

“That last one was a nail in the coffin,” said Goodhue head coach Josh Wieme. “Playing that goofy zone, paying that much attention to 22 (Reiss) is going to free something else up and it freed up open looks outside and it made it tough to rebound out of.

“You can see why they’re state entrants in volleyball every year because they can get up and jump.”

All year, Reiss tore up opponents in southwestern Minnesota with 20.4 points and 10.2 rebounds per game. But Goodhue’s threesome of Shelby Hinsch, Meredith Watson and Rachel Watson limited Reiss to 16 points and just 11 shot attempts.

“We knew we had to stay in front of her so she couldn’t get the ball,” Hinsch said. “(Reiss) was a very strong post. She’s very hard to defend, she’s really tough and she’s an amazing player. She’s kind of similar to Megan Quam and Brittney (Flom of Kenyon-Wanamingo).”

Even Johnston was quick to acknowledge that the Wildcats limited Reiss better than any team they’ve played this season. And when the Vikings went into the locker room with a slim 21-20 halftime lead, Johnston told his 2,000-point junior to pick her spots in the second half. Reiss’ steal at the end proved to be her golden opportunity.

“Goodhue did a great job of minimizing her,” Johnston said. “(Reiss) made the play when she had to at the end and that’s a great job of keeping your composure and not getting overly frustrated.”

Out of the break, Goodhue jumped ahead early after a layup by Mikayla Miller and a three-point play from Meredith Watson. But after going 1-for-7 from 3-point range in the first half, Minneota’s best outside shooter, Emily Stienessen, finally found her stroke, hitting three 3-pointers in the final 18 minutes.

“She’s a really good shooter,” Reiss said about Stienessen. “Just give her some time and she’ll start making ‘em.”

Getting the Vikings to take shots from the outside played right into what Goodhue wanted to do, but Stienessen’s ability from deep kept the Wildcats from gaining a sizeable advantage.

“We let 20 (Stienessen) have too many shots,” Wieme said. “We had a couple gambles and blown assignments, and she got free and hit some big ones.”

Playing with an injured shooting arm, Miller managed to go off for 14 points in the second half, helping the Wildcats to a 41-39 lead with 1:44 remaining. Stienessen tied the game back up at 41-41 with a pair of free throws at 41-41, setting the scene for the Vikings’ victory, and for the Wildcats’ heartbreak.

“At the end, you have a fantastic athlete in Taylor Reiss making a steal,” Wieme said, “and their player decided the game.”

Hinsch tearfully added, “Coach said to us that we played our hearts out and everybody worked so hard. Minneota is a really amazing team. They’re really good.”

Reiss added 11 rebounds to finish with a double-double for the Vikings, while Stienessen finished with 16 points. Larson had seven points and five rebounds from off the bench.

Miller finished the game with 25 points, 10 rebounds and four steals, and Meredith Watson came away with 12 points and three boards in the loss.

Minneota (32-1) still has one more game — the 1A championship game against Win-E-Mac — but the Vikings were relieved to come out the victors in a state championship-caliber game against the Wildcats.

“It was a really good, intense game,” Reiss said. “Goodhue’s a really good team.”

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