Vikings upset top seed in opener
Mt. Iron-Buhl was given the top seed in the Class A state girls basketball tournament based on its high-powered offense that averaged 84 points per game. But the Rangers' offense sputtered when confronted by Minneota's defense.
Minneota moved one step closer to defending its Class A state crown with a 51-48 overtime upset victory over the Rangers in the state quarterfinals Thursday at the University of Minnesota's Maturi Pavilion.
"When I told the girls that we drew the number one seed for our first game, they thought I was joking," said coach Chad Johnston. "But I told them to be the best, you have to beat the best. Nothing is easy here because all the teams are good."
Minneota (27-4) advanced to Friday's semifinals against No. 5-seeded Hayfield game at Williams Arena.
The 26 points the Rangers were held to in the first half were the lowest of the season, while the 48 total points was also the fewest they had scored in a game this season. The previous fewest they had scored was 60. The Rangers had scored 90-or-more points in 11 games this season, including four games where they reached 100-or-more.
"We kept the pressure on them and our defense was the difference," said Johnston. "We put the press on and we forced a couple of turnovers that got us going in the second half."
The Rangers' three prior losses this season came against 4A ranked teams.
"Obviously, we were not too happy when we found out we were unseeded and had to play Mountain Iron-Buhl right away," said senior guard McKenna Yost, who led the Vikings with 24 points and four steals. "They hadn't graduated any people from last year and were a great team. There was so much talk going around about how we were unseeded and were going to get crushed by MIB. All of us were motivated and ready to prove ourselves."
Minneota twice climbed out of a big hole against the Rangers. The Vikings trailed by 12 points at halftime, only to rally back and tied the game 30-30 with 10:25 left.
"MIB is known as an 'in-your-face' type of defense," Yost said. "We were lucky we were able to prepare for that leading up to the tournament. We practiced hard, so I felt that we were well-prepared for what they were going to give us."
The Rangers (27-4) then built their lead back to 11 points at 43-32 with 4:30 remaining in the second half.
Again, the Vikings' never-say-die attitude emerged as they went on an 11-3 run, highlighted by a pair of McKenna Yost three-pointers, to bring them within 45-42.
Minneota caught a break with 44 seconds left in the game and trailing 45-42. The Vikings had just turned the ball over and were forced to foul. Needing one free throw to make it a two-possession game and make things difficult for the Vikings, the Rangers' leading scorer Jordan Zubich missed both free throws.
Natalee Rolbiecki then took a feed from McKenzie Tolk and drained a three-pointer to tie the game with 30 seconds remaining. After an MIB turnover, the Vikings had two chances to win in regulation in the final 11 seconds. Yost's three-point attempt hit the rim and Rolbiecki got the rebound underneath but couldn't get her shot to fall at the buzzer.
After Rolbiecki blocked a shot in the four-minute overtime, Yost was fouled on a drive to the basket at the other end. She cashed both free throws for a 47-45 lead with 3:06 to go.
Tolk, Minneota's starting point guard, then fouled out and Hali Savela made one of two free throws at 1:48 to make it 47-46.
The Rangers regained the lead 48-47 on a pair of free throws by Sage Ganyo before Ireland Stassen scored underneath on a feed from Yost, giving the Vikings a 49-48 lead with 24 seconds left.
The Rangers misfired on their next attempt and the Vikings got the ball in Yost's hands. The senior guard was fouled with 2.6 seconds left and hit both free throws to cap the win.
Rolbiecki then intercepted a MIB pass at halfcourt to seal the win.
"We were motivated for this game, and it was nice to knock off the number one seed," said Rolbiecki after the game. "Now we have to keep playing well and take them one at a time."
Johnston, who starts four seniors, said that experience was important in this game.
"They have the experience because they've been here before," Johnston said. "I wanted the ball in McKenna's hands at the end. She made the free throws when we needed them."
Yost admitted to being a little nervous at the free-throw line.
"Yeah, I was a little nervous," she said. "I knew I needed to make at least one of the free throws because they had to go the full length of the court in two seconds. When I made the first one, I let out a big sigh of relief."
Rolbiecki had 12 points, Tolk nine, Stassen six, and Jeren Rost two.
Jordan Zubich had 14 points and Savela 12 for Mt. Iron-Buhl, which plays in the consolation today at Concordia University.
(Minneota 51, Mt. Iron-Buhl 48)
Mt. Iron-Buhl........................................................................26 19 3 - 48
Minneota..............................................................................14 31 6 - 51
Field goal shooting (good-attempts-pct.): Mt. Iron-Buhl 14-for-39, 35.9 percent. Minneota 19-for-42, 45.2 percent ... 3-point shooting (good-attempts-pct.): Mt. Iron-Buhl 3-for-14, 21.4 percent. Minneota 6-for-17, 35.3 percent ... Rebounds: Mt. Iron-Buhl 24, Minneota 29 ... Turnovers: Mt. Iron-Buhl 21, Minneota 10 ... Fouls: Mt. Iron-Buhl 14, Minneota 19.
Mt. Iron-Buhl Individual Statistics
Scoring (fgm-fga ftm-fta points): Jacie Kvas 1-2 0-0 2, Jordan Zubich 5-11 2-4 14, Sage Ganyo 0-7 6-8 6, Ava Butler 2-7 3-4 8, Lauren Maki 0-2 0-0 0, Hali Savela 5-9 2-4 12, Brooke Niska 1-1 4-5 6, Gabby Lira 0-0 0-0 0, Aniyah Thomas 0-0 0-0 0 ... 3-pointers: Zubich 2-for-5, Butler 1-for-2, Savela 0-for-3, Ganyo 0-for-4 ... Rebounds: Kvas 4, Ganyo 4, Savela 4, Zubich 3, Niska 3, Butler 2, Lira 1, Team 3 ... Assists: Kvas 2, Ganyo 2, Savela 2, Butler 1 ... Steals: Zubich 3, Ganyo 3, Kvas 1, Maki 1, Savela 1, Niska 1 ... Blocked shots: Zubich 2, Ganyo 1, Butler 1, Savela 1.
Minneota Individual Statistics
Scoring (fgm-fga ftm-fta points): Natalee Rolbiecki 5-11 0-0 12, Jeren Rost 1-2 0-0 2, McKenzie Tolk 3-7 1-3 7, McKenna Yost 7-12 6-6 24, Ireland Stassen 3-6 0-2 6, Grace Hennen 0-2 0-0 0, Kennedi Jurrens 0-0 0-0 0, Kenadi Arndt 0-2 0-0 0, Dakoda Hennen 0-0 0-0 0, Faith Myhre 0-0 0-0 0 ... 3-pointers: Yost 4-for-9, Rolbiecki 2-for-4, G.Hennen 0-for-1, Arndt 0-for-1, Stassen 0-for-2 ... Rebounds: Rolbiecki 10, Stassen 6, Yost 4, Tolk 3, Rost 1, G.Hennen 1, Arndt 1, Jurrens 1, Myhre 1, Team 1 ... Assists: Stassen 5, Tolk 3, Rolbiecki 2, Yost 1, Arndt 1 ... Steals: Yost 4, Stassen 3, Rolbiecki 3, Rost 2, Tolk 1 ... Blocked shots: Rost 2, Arndt 2, Rolbiecki 1.