SECTION 3A GIRLS BASKETBALL: No. 1 Vikings roll by No. 2 Eagles in section semifinals

Photo by Emily Daniels Minneota’s Lydia Sussner puts up a shot during their Section 3A semifinal game against Lac qui Parle Valley on Friday. The Vikings defeated the Eagles to advance to the Section 3A title game next week.

MARSHALL – The last time the Minneota girls basketball team faced Lac qui Parle Valley they came out on top with a 67-61 win. Friday night’s Sub-Section 3A Championship game had the makings of another close outcome as Minneota held just a 29-23 halftime lead. But the Vikings used a big second half to cruise over the Eagles en route to a 72-57 win.

The Vikings defense was one of the keys to their win and coach Chad Johnston saw the girls doing exactly what they were supposed to be doing to come out on top.

“Overall our defense was a strong suit and they are all such great ball handlers and so quick. We were going to dare them to get to the rim a little bit in the first half and they did. In the second half some of the shots weren’t going down and that’s what we were going to challenge them to do,” said Johnston. “We didn’t want LQPV to get hot from the 3-point line and we didn’t give them a lot of threes which was a big part of the game.”

Minneota and LQPV were ready to put up a fight for the dominance on the floor right from the start. With the Vikings taking the first quick lead over the Eagles at 2-0 there was no signs of them keeping that lead for the half. LQPV came into the game after the Vikings basket and kept the score in range for the times they could control it. Minneota’s offense and defense shined for them and was working in its favor, although the score wobbled back in forth with LQPV taking the lead before the Vikings tied it back up. The Eagles bounced back on top with a 16-14 lead with 8:15 remaining in the first half but Lydia Sussner used her strengths under the basket to tie up the score back at 16-16. Lizzy Gillingham was a key asset to the Vikings offense and showed that she can use her strengths under the basket. Gillingham found a big opportunity after missing a shot by grabbing her own rebound and putting it back up to get the basket plus the foul which led to the Vikings to a 24-22 lead with 3:01 left in the first half. With the score going back and forth it was destined for one of the teams to finally pull away with a steady lead, which was found by Minneota when Sussner put up big points under the basket growing the Vikings lead to 27-23 with 1:18 left to play. The Eagles found themselves not being able to keep up with the intensity that the Vikings were bringing the last few minutes which led to a few key components on their offense falling apart and gave the Vikings the advantage on both ends, with Minneota taking a six-point lead at the break.

After a close first half, junior Morgan Kockelman talked about the things that they wanted to do going into the second half to make some noise and finish out the night strong.

“We talked about how that was just the first half, we played well the first half, but we knew we had 18 minutes left to go and know that we had to play hard for the last 18 minutes because we knew LQPV was going too,” said Kockelman.

The second half was a different story for the Vikings, as they came into it with a six-point lead and their heads held high with confidence. Their offense heated up right away with a few baskets and a quick 3-pointer from Abby Hennen, bringing the Vikings to a 36-26 lead with 15:27 remaining on the clock. LQPV responded to Hennen’s 3-pointer and put one up to close the gap to 36-29, but that didn’t stop Minneota from playing the way they knew how. Gillingham’s big night didn’t stop after the first half, keeping herself in the game any way she could. Gillingham found herself under the basket to pick up a big rebound and put it back up to get a foul called, leading her into the 3-point play to put the Vikings on top with a 42-36 lead. The Vikings offense was strong, but they caught themselves in a few unnecessary fouls that gave LQPV the advantage. The Eagles used the few mistakes that Minneota made to find themselves just four points behind the Vikings with 11:40 left in the second half.

Minneota didn’t let that get into its heads as it found a spark after a few mistakes, quickly going back on top. Gillingham put up a 3-pointer to extend the lead to 45-38, which was later followed by another 3-pointer from Abby Hennen. The Vikings found another 10-point lead at 50-40 with 8:01 left on the clock and continued to pull away from the Eagles as the clock counted down. Another big asset to the second half was Kockelman’s strong offensive efforts who drove the ball in, fighting the defense to keep her team in the game and fighting. With just under three minutes remaining in the game, Gillingham found another shot opportunity and this time she found her groove on the arc, contributing to the 62-51 lead. The Vikings continued their big and strong offense to keep the Eagles at bay, as Sussner found a couple more opportunities to put the ball up for last-minute shots that led to the Vikings taking their biggest lead of the night at 15 points, on their way to win the Section 3A sub-section title with a final score of 72-57.

Abby Hennen led the Vikings with 21 points and five assists, followed by Gillingham and Sussner both contributing 18 points each and Morgan Hennen with seven points and five assists.

Going into the Section 3A championship game against Southwest Minnesota Christian, Kockelman is excited for her team to have another chance to fight for a spot at state and play them one more time this season.

“We’re looking forward to going at Southwest Christian again, we’ve seen them already this season and they are a really good team and we have to respect that,” said Kockelman. “We’re really excited to go one more game until we can possibly make the state tournament.”