CLASS A GIRLS BASKETBALL: Survive and advance
Abby Hennen’s free throw in final seconds lifts Minneota to 54-53 victory over Mountain Iron-Buhl in Class A semifinals
MINNEAPOLIS — A tied game in the final seconds can be nerve-wracking for any player, coach or fan. Having the ball in your possession and in the hands of one of your veteran leaders, though, might help calm those nerves, and Abby Hennen helped her team and the Minneota faithful take a huge sigh of relief on the state’s largest stage.
With the score deadlocked at 53-all, Minneota’s Class A semifinal opponent Mountain Iron-Buhl had a chance to take the lead but couldn’t capitalize. The Vikings rebounded the ball and called timeout with 6.1 seconds left to draw up one final play. Hennen, one of Minneota’s senior guards, got the inbounds pass and raced up the floor. She attacked the basket and would be fouled with just 2.1 seconds remaining. After just missing on the first attempt, Hennen calmly sank the second free throw to give the Vikings a one-point lead. The Rangers’ desperation heave from half-court fell short, sealing the 54-53 victory for Minneota and a spot in the Class A championship game.
Minneota coach Chad Johnston said he was hoping to get the ball over half-court before calling timeout, but they had to make an adjustment with their final offensive possession.
“I was hoping to get a timeout called when we got past half-court so I could draw up a last-second shot, but the girls called it on their own so I wasn’t really ready for a three-quarter court situation,” Johnston said. “We ran something that we do as a sideline out-of-bounds play and normally we will have three or four options, but they [MIB] limited that. Fortunately the option we ran was the one we got, otherwise I’m not sure if we get a shot off.”
“When McKenna Yost passed me the ball, I wasn’t looking to get an outside shot, I was trying to get to the basket and either get fouled, score a layup or make a jumper,” Abby Hennen said on the final possession. “When I looked back at the play, I didn’t know there were two girls down there defending; the one guarding the ball on the inbounds went to the basket. Fortunately I got a foul called and was able to put in one of the free throws.”
The Vikings overcame a slow start and a 29-26 deficit at halftime by outscoring MIB 28-24 in the second half. Johnston said they feel fortunate to be able to advance but knows they didn’t do a good job of executing as a group and credited MIB for disrupting a lot of things throughout the game.
“That would probably be the best way to describe it,” Johnston said. “It was not our best day of executing; MIB’s a well-coached team and have been for a long time and they executed very well, so you have to give them credit. We did what we needed to do, but it wasn’t our best day of executing by any means.”
Trailing by three at halftime, Minneota quickly opened the second half with a pair of baskets and ultimately scored the first seven points of the frame to take a 33-29 lead, but MIB answered with a 3-pointer to go back in front with 13:30 left. The two teams traded points over the next several minutes, with Abby Hennen connecting on a couple of key 3-pointers for Minneota before the Rangers dialed it in from long distance to take a 46-45 lead with 6:35 left.
The Vikings would get two free throws from Natalee Rolbiecki, but MIB quickly responded with a 7-0 run to take a 53-47 advantage with 2:30 to go. But Minneota kept battling, with Abby Hennen connecting on a huge 3-pointer before Abby Rost got a layup to make it a one-point game with 1:44 left. After a loose ball that was reviewed and ultimately awarded to Minneota, Rolbiecki drew a foul and sank a free throw to tie things at 53-53 with a minute to play, setting the stage for the dramatic finish.
Abby Hennen led Minneota with 19 points while Rolbiecki added 18 and Abby Rost had 11. Rolbiecki led in rebounds with eight while Abby Hennen led in assists with seven. As a team, Minneota shot 38.8% (19 of 49) from the field, including just 4 of 17 from 3-point range, but connected on 12 of its 20 free throws.
Defensively, Minneota allowed MIB to shoot 43.8% (21 of 48) and forced 17 turnovers.
Mountain Iron-Buhl jumped out to an early 5-2 lead before Abby Rost connected on a 3-pointer to tie things up with 15:17 left in the first half. The Rangers then went on a 6-0 run to take an 11-5 advantage as Minneota struggled to put the ball in the basket. McKenzie Tolk would end a nearly four-minute scoreless stretch for the Vikings with a free throw, but MIB quickly answered with a layup to make it 13-6 with 10:40 left in the half.
The Vikings refused to go away, though, and slowly worked at the deficit before a string of layups by Rolbiecki, Abby Hennen and Yost gave Minneota the lead. Jeren Rost added to Minneota’s advantage with a layup of her own with five minutes to go, making it 24-19 in favor of the Vikings, but the Rangers still had some energy left in the tank. MIB got a 3-pointer and a 3-point play to take a 26-24 lead with 1:28 left before adding a layup in the closing seconds to cap off a 10-2 run by the Rangers and hold a 29-26 advantage over Minneota at halftime.
Minneota (24-0) will face Belgrade-Brooten Elrosa in the championship game on Friday at 1 p.m. at Target Center. The Vikings and Jaguars faced each other in the regular season on Feb. 20, with Minneota defeating BBE 42-38. Going into the rematch, Johnston said they know BBE is going to test them when they have the ball and they need to be able to capitalize and execute on offense.
“We know what we’re going to see with them,” Johnston said. “They’re a very good defensive team and they’re going to set good pressure on the perimeter as well as use their post players inside to alter or block shots. We need to be able to execute and run our offense the best we can.”