Girls' Basketball: Red Wing falls to Northfield in overtime
ROCHESTER — Regulation was not enough as Red Wing and Northfield would need one extra frame to determine the Section 1AAA champion. The Wingers were stymied in overtime though, and fell to the Raiders, 41-34, on Thursday at Mayo Civic Center.
In a game where neither team was able to separate from the other, overtime was an appropriate conclusion. In fact, the seven-point lead the Raiders won by was the largest margin by either team. Although for the Wingers, the fact that they had led for the majority of the game makes the defeat more difficult to swallow.
"The effort tonight was great," head coach Jesse Nelson said. "A couple of the shots towards the end went in-and-out. If one of those goes in then I think this one might have been a little different."
While it sounds simple, missed shots, or more aptly, well-timed makes were crucial in the game's outcome. As were the in-game adjustments made by both coaches. One of the first that Red Wing made was to play with two post players to counter Northfield's size advantage. That meant more minutes for sophomore Lily Befort, who spent most of the year on junior varsity.
"Befort had a great JV season, and we knew going into this game, with the size that they have, that we would need to make adjustments," Nelson said. "I thought she did a great job in both halves tonight."
Nelson's defensive adjustment worked well, holding Northfield's post players to 18 points combined and not allowing a shot down low to go uncontested. Northfield, on the other hand, also deployed a defensive strategy early. Being cognizant of Red Wing's threat from behind the arc, the Raiders put pressure on Winger ball handlers, not allowing them to drive and kick it out for an open look at a 3-pointer. Rather, Red Wing was forced to frequently make cross-court passes that sometimes worked, but too frequently resulted in a turnover.
The defensive chess match between the two teams resulted in a back-and-forth affair throughout the first half, with Red Wing taking a 21-17 lead into the half.
After the break, both teams struggled to score points and hold onto the ball, combining for seven missed shots and eight turnovers in the first five minutes of the second half.
"We were trying to be very patient," Nelson said. "I thought we had some good looks and some good shots, they just didn't go down."
Northfield's Grace Touchette, who led the Raiders with 14 points, broke through the stalemate six minutes into the second half with four points, tying the game and forcing the tempo to elevate. Red Wing appeared to retake momentum with Kyli Nelson nailing two 3-pointers to retake the lead, 27-24, but Northfield would go on a run of its own to retake the lead.
The Raiders would safeguard that lead until 30 seconds remained, when they turned the ball over on an inbound pass. Lindsay Reps would drive to the hoop and put up a floater to tie the game up, 34-34. Northfield was fouled on the ensuing possession and was put on the free-throw line with 4.7 seconds remaining with a chance to win the game. Touchette missed the front end of the one-and-one and the game went into overtime.
"I couldn't be more proud of my teammates," senior captain Tayzha Buck said. "They played so hard all night." Buck was the Wingers' leading scorer, with eight points.
Jesse Nelson was also pleased with how the team responded to battling back in the second half. "The girls didn't fold ... they have great resilience. We've been down before and came back."
In overtime, both teams maintained their strong defensive effort, the difference being Northfield shot lights out at the free-throw line. The Wingers were unable to put up any points in the extra period.
Although the Wingers didn't receive the outcome they desired, the team had a successful season and checked the box on many of their early-season goals.
"Our first goal was to make it to section finals," Buck said. With that goal completed, the only one left unchecked was to make it to state. But Jesse Nelson sees that as something that can be achieved in the not-so-distant future.
"The future is very bright. We have a lot of young players coming up," he said. "If all of our players buy-in to the selflessness of the team, the defensive team effort, I like our chances."
With Buck as the Wingers' only graduating senior, the team is certainly set up for future success and now has the experience in a title game to build off of.