Girls Basketball: Back-to-back Cats
MINNEAPOLIS – There was some doubt in Goodhue that the team could actually knock off Mountain Iron-Buhl.
Losing by 44 points to the Rangers back on Dec. 3 at the Breakdown Tip-Off Classic, it's easy to get why the Wildcats would be worried.
“I doubted us,” guard Maddy Miller said candidly before a chorus of laughs.
“Me too,” teammate McKenzie Ryan chimed in.
But that was months ago. And this time, in the Class 1A championship on Saturday, the Wildcats had a title to defend.
Holding the Rangers to 30.8 percent shooting, including 10 of 30 from 3-point range, Goodhue walked off the Williams Arena raised court as back-to-back champions after a 73-51 victory.
“We just kind of peaked at the right time,” said Wildcats head coach Josh Wieme. “These gals just had an amazing three games.”
The December loss was humbling. And it was the moment Goodhue knew a repeat was far from a given. MIB was anxious to finally win its first state title after taking third a year ago.
On that December day, everything went the Rangers' way. On Saturday, according to Rangers head coach Jeff Buffetta, the Wildcats flipped the December script and were the aggressor everywhere on the court.
“Goodhue really took it to us aggressively,” Buffetta said. “We played more aggressively than them in December and they came out on us today and took it to us with their trapping and on the boards. That's the best way I can describe it.”
The Wildcats jumped out to a 16-6 lead in the first half as MIB struggled to find its shot. But in the course of three minutes, the Rangers hit a pair of outside shots as part of a 10-0 run that tied the game at 16-all with 8:13 left before halftime.
“We just knew that when they score – obvious they're going to score – we just had to stay calm and have a good offense and take good shots,” Miller said. “Just keep up with them.”
The offense turned around, thanks to consecutive three-point plays from McKenzie Ryan, scoring the last eight points of the first half for a 29-22 lead at the break.
“It gave us just a lot of energy and a spark,” said McKenzie, who finished with 14 points along with a 10-for-10 effort at the free-throw line. “The last play of the half (a layup from Sydney Lodermeier) let us know we could stay with them.”
With the Rangers trying to get going outside, the Wildcats pounded the ball in the paint repeatedly with Sydney and Emily Benrud down low and Miller on the dribble-drive. Miller had a game-high 21 points while Sydney had 14 points and 14 rebounds and Benrud tallied 11 points, nine rebounds and three assists. Goodhue held a 45-22 advantage in rebounds.
“They were really aggressive. We just didn't match their intensity as much as we should have,” said Mya Buffetta, who had six points and two rebounds for the Rangers.
Perhaps more importantly, it put MIB (31-2) in foul trouble as Goodhue got into the bonus with 10 minutes to play. As a team, the Wildcats shot 25 of 33 from the charity stripe.
“It's kind of a unique situation for us because usually we're a small team in comparison to who we're playing,” Sydney said. “We talked about getting the ball inside and driving inside. Our focus wasn't really to get the points from the post, but to work it in to get inside for the open shot. … The fact they had so many fouls helped a lot. We talked before the game that our full-court press and defense in the half would wear them out but it would take a while.
“Even with those free throws, I didn't feel comfortable until there was three minutes left.”
With 9:27 to go, the Rangers cut the gap to 46-39 before Megan Ryan hit a pair of daggers with two 3-pointers, with a Haley Lexvold layup in between, that ignited a 10-point run and a 58-39 lead with 6:26 left.
“I just knew we needed another spark,” said Megan, who finished with nine points on 3 of 6 shooting outside, “so I quit thinking and just shot 'em.”
A theme all tournament was the Wildcats' less-heralded players stepping up in key moments. Megan's pair of triples just happened to seal a state title.
“I was asked who's the key player, who do you need to come up big today. And again, I said we need everybody,” Wieme said. “Emily, just a breakout three games for her. Always been a good, tough rebounder, but she was finishing and hitting free throws. … Haley, you can't say enough about Haley Lexvold. So often overlooked but amazing what she does defensively. … And Megan's threes, just huge. First couple games, she hadn't found her stroke yet. But the confidence she has says a lot about her as a person.”
Four Wildcat players – Sydney, Miller, McKenzie and Benrud – were all named to the Class 1A All-Tournament team.
Two years in a row, Goodhue (28-4) proved to be the top of Class 1A. It just took a little bit of a whoopin' courtesy of MIB on an early December afternoon to get the Wildcats back on the championship track.
“Being with everyone on the team,” said Miller with tears welling up in her eyes, “yep, it was good.”