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New London-Spicer’s Taylor Thunstedt throws the ball in the air in celebration as time expired in the Wildcats’ 84-81 overtime victory over Sauk Centre in the Section 6AA title game on Friday at St. Cloud State, as the Mainstreeters’ Amanda Weir looks on. Tribune photo by Rand Middleton

Girls basketball: NLS tops Sauk in OT to earn spot at state

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ST. CLOUD — Finally, after 28 games, it was post time for the New London-Spicer thoroughbreds and they delivered.

In a rollicking good-time basketball game that needed overtime to find separation, the Wildcats nudged the Sauk Centre Mainstreeters to the finish line by a nose, 84-81 Friday at St. Cloud State.

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The Wildcats (24-5) displaced the four-time Section 6AA champions for their first visit to the Class AA state tournament since 2009. They will play Wednesday at Mariucci Arena (time and opponent to be determined by Saturday’s seeding). Winners move on to Williams Arena for the semifinals Friday.

Both teams played like champions before 2,000 fans at Halenbeck Hall.

While Taylor Thunstedt was her usual dynamic self and huge in the clutch, much of the horsepower was provided by Ashlyn Geister and Olivia Setterberg, the ’Cats’ rangy post tandem.

Geister sank, are you ready, 11 of her 12 shots, mostly feathering shots inside five feet in heavy traffic. Setterberg, from slightly farther out, sank 6 of 8 attempts.

Everyone contributed. Freshman forward Kabrie Weber hit 2 of 5 from the floor, plus 3 of 4 gift shots in the tension-filled final minutes.

The ’Cats shot 52 percent and every basket was needed to keep up with the ’Streeters. This is a program that took over Section 6AA South in 2010 and has won second- and third-place medals at state. Even with five new starters this year, Sauk Centre nearly made it five in a row taking the Cats to overtime tied 74-all.

Thunstedt, who was a seventh-grader when the Wildcats last made The Dance, finished with a game-high 28 points and 8 assists, plus 3 steals, one a key turnover late in regulation. The North Dakota State recruit was lukewarm on three-pointers (5 of 19) but when it counted most she sank a pair in the last three minutes that prevented Sauk from getting it done in regulation.

Ali Peterson’s fifth trey of the game put Sauk up 73-71 with about 40 seconds left but another Thunstedt bomb put the ’Cats back in front 74-73 with 18 seconds left. Madison Moritz sank the tying free throw with five seconds showing. Setterberg rebounded, lost the ball, and a buzzer beater by Julie Bushard missed and the game would go to extra minutes.

Weber fed Setterberg for a jumper and a 76-74 lead. A Bushard deuce tied it up again but Geister scored from straight below the rim in a basket that gave NLS the lead for good. With under a minute, Weber drained two at the line and Alyssa Fredrick followed with another for 81-76 lead at :30. Thunstedt added another free throw and it was 82-76, but the ’Streeters didn’t cave. Moritz hit a three to make it 81-79 but Thunstedt was fouled and sealed it with two throws at :05.

But the 6-1 junior Geister is the story this time. “She kept us in the game the first half,” said NLS head coach Mike Dreier, taking a team to state a 15th time. “She was making shot after shot. We’ve been waiting for that all year.”

Thunstedt, the Frederick sisters, Bri and Alyssa, and others pumped the ball inside, something the ’Cats failed to do with any dignity while scoring 35 points in the sub-section win over Eden Valley-Watkins on Tuesday at St. John’s University.

Maybe, the ’Cats were just laying low until thy got back to Halenbeck Hall. It had been a while.

 “We knew we had to get the ball down to the posts and let them use their height advantage,” said Thunstedt, who played all 40 minutes. “This time we executed. It had a huge impact on the game.”

The interior game was needed to counter Ali Peterson (16 points), Bushard (25 points) and Amanda Weir (19 points), plus Moritz (11 rebounds).

“We just wanted this so badly,” said Geister. “Luckily, I made most of my shots. I knew I’d get some chances underneath tonight off our offense.”

Dreier said the six seniors have talked about going to state since fifth grade.

“This is a great feeling,” I’m so proud of them,” said the Minnesota coach with the most wins in girls basketball (816). “This was such an exciting atmosphere. The gym was rocking, there were so many big plays. So many runs by each team.”

You have to hand it to Sauk Centre (22-6), which lost eight seniors but came within a basket of going back a fifth time straight.

“Our girls worked so very hard,” said Sauk Centre coach Scott Bergman. “And they just kept getting better and better as the year went by.”

Both teams had done themselves proud.

NLS 84, Sauk Centre 81

Sauk Centre (22-5)..... 33 41   7 — 81

NLS (23-5)................. 38 36 10 — 84

SAUK CENTRE  28-70 FG (11-37 3-pt); 14-21 FT; 40 rebounds; 17 fouls … Scoring: Ali Peterson 16, Julie Bushard 25, Amanda Weir 19, Madison Moritz 6, Alea Gerhartz 7, Madison Greenwaldt 6, Rebecca Weir 2 … 3-point shots: Peterson 5-17, Bushard 1-3, Moritz 1-4, Gerhartz 2-7, Greenwaldt 2-6 … Rebound leaders: Moritz 11, Bushard 10, A. Weir 10, R. Weir 4 … Assist leaders: Moritz 5, Bushard 4, Gerhartz 4 … Steal leaders: Peterson 2

NEW LONDON-SPICER  32-61 FG (8-23 3-pt); 12-19 FT; 41 rebounds; 16 fouls … Scoring: Brianna Fredrick 3, Olivia Setterberg 12, Ashlyn Geister 23, Taylor Thunstedt 28, Reiley Ness 3, Alyssa Fredrick 6, Kabrie Weber 7, Megan Thorson 2 … 3-point shots: B. Fredrick 1-1, Thunstedt 5-19, Ness 1-1, A. Fredrick 1-1 … Rebound leaders: Geister 10, Megan Thorson 8, Weber 6, Thunstedt 4, B. Fredrick 3, Setterberg 3 … Assist leaders: Thunstedt 8, Peterson 3, A. Fredrick 3 … Steal leaders: Thunstedt 3

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Rand Middleton

Covers Willmar and area high schools and Ridgewater College, plus amateur baseball, stock car racing and fitness events in summer. Writes weekly column since 1980. Began working in radio and at weekly newspaper in Munising, Michigan, in 1972. Started parttime at West Central Daily Tribune Sept. 1974. Fulltime beginning Feb. 1979. Married to Tribune news clerk Donna (Miller) Middleton, formerly of Kerkhoven. 2 grown children. 

(320) 214-4334
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