Girls Basketball: Orono staves off spirited Cards
MINNEAPOLIS—As soon as Willmar drew top-ranked Orono in the quarterfinals of the Class AAA Minnesota State Girls Basketball Tournament, it knew it was in for a tough task.
That turned out to be just the case for the Cardinals, who gave the Spartans everything they could handle over a second-half run before ultimately falling short, 59-45, at the Target Center on Tuesday night.
"We enjoyed it and have our heads up," Cardinals head coach Dustin Carlson said. "I know it was disappointing to lose, but our heads are pretty high right now and we feel pretty good about our effort."
Heidi Sellmann scored a team-high 11 points and Hannah Johnson and Cayle Hovland added 10 points each for the Cardinals, who cut the deficit to nine points with just under four minutes after trailing by as many as 21 points points in the second half.
Turnovers from the first half and a hot streak for the Spartans would be too much to overcome in the end, though.
Willmar struggled to find the basketball consistently in the first half, with its 11 turnovers playing a role in a 26-13 halftime deficit.
"We were too unselfish with the ball in the second half," Carlson said. "We need to be more selfish, and that's what they did in the second half. They gave it an all-out effort and took it right to them."
In the second half, the Cardinals responded by shooting 46.7 percent and making more field goals (14) than they attempted in the first half (13).
"We just calmed down and did what we needed to do and played how we can play on offense," Sellmann said. "We just pushed the ball, and we knew we needed to do that, it just took us a half to get going."
As she did for most of the night in scoring a game-high 26 points, Orono guard and All-Metro player Tori Andrew gave her team a lift coming out of the locker room. Andrew hit three 3-pointers and scored 11 points on four possessions to open the second half as the Spartans created a deficit to large to climb out from.
"They just kept hitting shots," Carlson said of Orono. "We forced them into some shots that we wanted them to shoot and they kept hitting them. They're tough, but our girls weren't nervous, they weren't scared.
The Spartans scored 14 points over their first five possessions of the second half to claim a 40-19 lead, but the Cardinals found their groove to give Orono a run for its money.
A 10-0 run drew Willmar within 11 points with just over nine minutes to play, and Abby Berskow's jumper with 3:57 to play cut the lead down to nine points.
"We wanted to push the ball, take more shots and be more aggressive at the rim," Johnson said. "I do know that we never gave up. A lot of teams, at that stage, would have given up. We said, 'No way.' We knew what we needed to do, and we didn't start out as want as we wanted."
Orono closed out the game at the free throw line, but Willmar walked away knowing it gave the top seed in the tournament a good test.
"We went into that game knowing it wasn't just going to come to us," Sellmann said. "We were going to have to play our hearts out and I think that really sunk in during that second half."
Grace Sawyer scored eight points for the Cardinals, who ended the game shooting 41.9 percent (18-for-41) from the field and 90 percent (9-for-10) from the free throw line.
Willmar actually out-shot Orono, which went 41.7 percent (20-for-48), but the Spartans hit seven three and committed just eight turnovers compared to 17 for the Cardinals. Defensively, Willmar kept Andrew from posting an efficient night, as she required 20 field goals to get her 26 points.
"We didn't back down," Carlson said. "We were relentless the whole time and we wore them down a little bit. We made a run to get back in it, but just couldn't finish it off."
Despite the loss, the Cardinals walked away with an experience to remember.
"It was so cool, seeing the whole school and getting the support and a send-off," Carlson said. "It was pretty special. Then getting down here and getting the band and the community all here in the arena."