Girls Basketball: Cougars secure first ever trip to stateROCHESTER - Ashley Hinsch couldn’t be stopped. One win away from the first state berth in Zumbrota-Mazeppa girls basketball history, Hinsch finished with 31 points, seven rebounds and four assists as the fourth-seeded Cougars defeated second-seeded Chatfield 56-52 in the Section 1AA finals Thursday at the Mayo Civic Arena.
By: Chris Harrell, The Republican Eagle
ROCHESTER - Ashley Hinsch couldn’t be stopped.
One win away from the first state berth in Zumbrota-Mazeppa girls basketball history, Hinsch finished with 31 points, seven rebounds and four assists as the fourth-seeded Cougars defeated second-seeded Chatfield 56-52 in the Section 1AA finals Thursday at the Mayo Civic Arena.
In the final two games of sections, Hinsch scored 53 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and dished out eight assists.
“I knew I had to make things happen,” Hinsch, a senior, said. “I knew we can beat any team every night if we play our best … but I never expected this.”
Z-M knocked off top-seeded Pine Island and second-seeded Stewartville to advance through the Section 1AA West Subsection. Chatfield was seeded second in the East Subsection.
Sophomore Kalli Paukert added 10 points and three steals while junior Amber Jentsch tallied six points and nine rebounds in the win.
Four Gophers scored in double figures, led by Sidney Irish’s 11 points.
The Cougars looked rattled at the start, trailing 10-2 in the opening minutes. The offense was stagnant and Z-M was getting beat to rebounds on both ends of the court.
But after a timeout at 13 minutes, 32 seconds, the Cougars went on a 15-0 run to pull ahead 17-10 on a 3-pointer by Kalli Paukert.
Chatfield responded with a 13-3 run of its own to take a 27-24 lead into halftime. Z-M shot just 9 of 26 in the first half but forced nine turnovers by the Gophers. Hinsch had 12 points and five rebounds at the break.
Coming out of the break, there was no shortage of offense as both teams traded baskets in the first 10 minutes, with five lead changes and four ties.
However, a coaching decision by Scott Paukert slowed the pace considerably once Z-M secured a 40-39 lead with 8:14 remaining. At that point, the Cougars pulled the ball out toward half court and decided to stall. Scott Paukert said he was prepared to waste time of the clock at any point in the game as long as the Cougars had a lead. He said he felt the momentum shifting and wanted to force Chatfield out of its zone defense.
The tactic worked as Z-M never relinquished the lead.
“Once we got them more spread, (Hinsch) had more room to work,” Scott Paukert said. “She said she loves it because there’s so much more floor.”
When Hinsch got into the lane, she used her athletic ability to elevate over the defenders for 8-10 foot jump shots. When those shots are falling like they did Thursday, she’s unstoppable, Scott Paukert said.
“I don’t know what you can say,” Paukert said of Hinsch’s performance. “All I know is when the ball is in her hands, I feel good.”
It wasn’t a pretty last couple minutes but Hinsch was able to make the Gophers chase her all over the floor before getting to the rim or forcing a foul. She made 10 of 12 free throws in the game and scored 12 of Z-M’s last 14 points.
She connected on 21 of 25 free throws in the final two games of sections.
Punching the Cougars’ first ever ticket to the Class 2A girls state basketball tournament, Hinsch said she wants to soak in the final moments of her senior year.
“Now that we are here, we just want to enjoy it,” Hinsch said.
Z-M started the season 4-8 as Scott Paukert waited for his team to hit its stride. Now, the Cougars found their hot streak at the perfect time but Paukert said he hopes they have a little left in the tank.
“We’ve almost peaked,” he said with a smirk. “We’re a week away from peaking.”
Z-M will play the winner of seventh-ranked Hawley and Pequot Lakes during the first round of the state tournament Wednesday at Williams Arena at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. The game begins at 6 p.m.