State Girls Basketball: Wingers headed to 3A semifinals
MINNEAPOLIS - Over the last two years, Williams Arena has been a house of horrors for the Red Wing girls basketball team.
But after conquering Missota Conference rival New Prague on Wednesday, the fifth-seeded Wingers are finally headed to the Target Center with a berth in the state championship game just one win away.
Fueled by a 32-point, 11-rebound effort by Tesha Buck, Red Wing is headed to the Class 3A semifinals after a 63-45 victory over the fourth-seeded and sixth-ranked Trojans in the quarterfinals Wednesday.
"It's about time; we finally get to play on that court after three years," said Wingers senior McKenna Schaffer. "The feeling is unbelievable."
But even after exorcising the demons at the University of Minnesota's home court and going a perfect 3-0 against one of its biggest rivals, Red Wing (22-7) is still not content.
"We have a job and that's to win the state tournament by doing what we can," Buck said. "It doesn't matter who we play, we just need to go out and do what we can."
The 10th-ranked Wingers will face top-seeded Richfield at noon Thursday, hoping to avenge last year's 68-53 loss in the quarterfinals. The second-ranked Spartans advanced on Wednesday with a 54-35 victory over Hill-Murray.
"Our goal was to play on Saturday when we came up here, and there's only one way to do that (by winning today)," said Wingers head coach Dave Muelken. "It's exciting to move on."
Early on, it was Buck providing the firepower for Red Wing, scoring 19 of the Wingers' 25 first-half points. Buck was 7 of 13 shooting, including 3-for-5 from 3-point range, in the first half. Red Wing held a 25-15 lead at halftime.
"I don't know if she's ever had a bad game against us," said New Prague head coach Ron Gunderson. "As a team, Red Wing always plays well against us."
Buck extended the lead in the second half to 31-17 by scoring Red Wing's first six points. But after scoring a runner with 16 minutes, 32 seconds left in the game, she did not hit another field goal for the next 13 minutes. But her teammates were right there to pick up the slack on offense. Schaffer and Kelly each had eight points, and the Wingers went 17 of 22 from the free-throw line.
"That's what we're good at - having different girls stepping up," Buck said. "Macy stepped up huge, McKenzie stepped up huge with some free throws, and McKenna was huge on defense throughout."
For as much of an impact Buck made on the offensive end, Schaffer became the Wingers' rock on the defensive end. Tasked with defending Annie Dittberner, the Trojans' leading scorer at 15.6 points per game, Schaffer was locked in, holding Dittberner to 2 of 10 shooting for 11 points.
"It was a battle. She was a good challenge," Schaffer said of defending Dittberner. "It was fun shutting her down, and she's a really good player."
Dave Muelken added, "Annie's a really good player and that's why we defend her like we do. For McKenna to be able to do that was just incredible. She wanted that so badly."
Holding New Prague (22-7) to 29.2 percent shooting, the Wingers also stifled the Trojans' second biggest offensive threat, senior post Lexi Ruehling, to the tune of 10 points.
"Lexi didn't have a good day, and the Red Wing kids were making sure she didn't," Gunderson said. "I knew if she did go in (the post), they were going to dive all over her."
Buck added, "We take a lot of pride in our defense, trying to hold teams under 40. I think we really did a good job of that today."
Cutting Red Wing's lead down to 10 with 4:22 remaining, Red Wing proved to be clutch at the free-throw line over the final five minutes, going 10 of 12 from the stripe during that span to seal the quarterfinal victory.
"I felt like our effort was the difference tonight," Dave Muelken said.
--Check www.republican-eagle.com later today for photos from Wednesday's victory