Cards trick: Willmar comes back, downs DeLaSalle in OT at state

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MINNEAPOLIS — There wasn’t any clipboard-snapping, locker-slapping or voice-raising.

Instead, as the Willmar girls basketball team sat in the locker room at halftime after saving its worst extended performance of the season for the first half of a Class AAA state quarterfinal, Cardinals head coach Dustin Carlson kept the message simple.

“We just kept saying over and over, ‘Be us. Be us,” Carlson said atop the dais inside the interview room at the Williams Arena.

Just minutes before, on the other side of the hallway, the Cardinals had followed that advice to a T. And then some.

Cayle Hovland scored 15 points, Hannah Johnson added 14 points and the fifth-seeded Cardinals came back from the dead to erase a double-digit lead in the second half and beat fourth-seeded DeLaSalle 52-47 in overtime.

To simply call it a comeback would be an understatement.

After scoring just 21 points in the first 26 minutes against the tough Islanders defense, the Cardinals erased a 14-point deficit in the final 11 minutes to force the extra period.

Then, in overtime, Willmar’s pair of All-State performers in Hovland and Johnson scored all 10 of the team’s points at the free throw line to secure the win.

“I just felt like we kept putting our head down and assuming that we had won,” DeLaSalle forward Elaina Jones said. “We just kept looking at the scoreboard and putting our heads down.”

The Cardinals (26-2) will now take on top-seeded Robbinsdale Cooper (27-2) in the semifinals on Thursday at noon at the Target Center.

With DeLaSalle holding a 29-14 lead at halftime, Willmar scored a meager .434 points per possession over the first 18 minutes.

“We got to the offensive side of the ball and there was nothing positive to talk about,” Carlson said. “We had 16 shots. Everything we took was like hoping and praying it would touch the rim.”

With the Islanders up 35-21 after an Ayanna Gardner 3-pointer with 11:11 to play in the second half, Willmar had committed nearly three times as many turnovers (20) as field goals made (7).

“We weren’t really doing anything right,” Hovland said.

Dr. Jekyll then put on a cardinal red jersey.

Over the final 15 minutes of play including overtime, the Cardinals outscored the fourth-seeded Islanders 34-12.

“I thought Willmar started to get more aggressive,” DeLaSalle head coach Tanysha Scott said. “They’re good players, which we knew that they were. We knew that they would have that spurt.”

Carly Wedel hit a layup and Johnson, who finished with seven rebounds and six assists, added a quick five points. Abby Berskow converted a 3-point play to make it a 10-0 run.

Suddenly, when Johnson found Hovland for a layup through contact with 4:18 to play, Willmar was improbably in front, 39-38.

“We knew that we could catch up,” Johnson said. “We knew that we could take the ball to the hole, dish it off, go up strong and get to the free throw line and make the comeback.”

Jones, who scored a team-high 14 points for the Islanders, finally ended the 19-3 Cardinals run with a jumper to tie the game at 40 with 2:31 remaining.

Wedel converted a layup with 36 seconds to play to put Willmar up 42-40, capping off a well-executed play call from Carlson out of a timeout.

With the Islanders having scored just five points in a matter of exactly 11 minutes, Gardner grabbed an offensive rebound and hit a running layup to tie the game at 42 with 10 seconds to play. Willmar turned the ball over on the ensuing inbounds pass, but Gardner’s 3-pointer from the corner at the buzzer came up all air.

In overtime, getting to the free throw line and a pack-line defense pushed Willmar to the semifinals for the first time since 2004, when it eventually lost in the championship game to Minneapolis North.

Following a defensive stop, Hovland hit the first two of 14 free throw attempts for the Cardinals in the four-minute extra period. DeLaSalle wouldn’t score until a Mary Francois triple with 1:05 to play, but by that point Johnson and Hovland had sunk seven of eight free throw attempts for a 49-45 lead.

“I don’t think I was really nervous because I was like, ‘These are going to go in or out, it’s 50/50,” Hovland said.

Still up by four with 36 seconds remaining, Johnson missed a pair of free throws, but the Islanders’ two 3-point attempts on the other end rimmed out. Wedel secured the last of her 11 rebounds on the day. Six seconds remained. Hovland hit another free throw. The sea of red erupted behind the Cardinals bench.

Willmar finished the game at 39.5 percent shooting from the field and got the free throw line 36 times, making 19. The Cardinals struggled throughout against the Islanders’ press, finishing with 27 turnovers, but it was once again their defense that was the saving grace.

DeLaSalle hit just 15 of its 64 field goal attempts (23.4 percent) and four of 27 3-point tries while getting to the line 14 fewer times and committing 18 turnovers.

“In the second half, the girls were really locked in on packing it in on those post players,” Carlson said.

Neither team came out burning down the Barn with their offense.

Through the first seven minutes, the teams had combined for 10 turnovers, six fouls and just three points.

The Cardinals committed eight turnovers and went 0-for-8 from the floor before a Hovland recorded their first field goal of the game with a layup at the 9:14 mark of the first half.

The Islanders eventually found their groove, using a 12-1 run over the middle part of the half to jump out to a 19-5 lead. Their biggest advantage of the game came at 29-14 on a Mary Francois jumper in the half’s closing seconds.

Willmar was in need of some magic. It had one potent Card trick up its sleeve.

Willmar 57, DeLaSalle 52 OT

Willmar (26-2) 14 28 10 — 57

DeLaSalle (19-9) 29 13 5 — 47

WILLMAR - Scoring: Abby Berskow 6, Jordyn Swoboda 9, Hannah Johnson 14, Cayle Hovland 15, Carly Wedel 4, Katelyn Murphy 3, Brielle Thorpe 1 ... 3-point shots: Berskow 1, Swoboda 1, Johnson 1 ... Rebound leader: Wedel 11, Hovland 9, Berskow 8, Johnson 7 ... Assist leader: Johnson 6 ... Steal leader: Johnson 2, Berskow 2

DELASALLE - Scoring: Olivia Travis 10, Mary Francois 5, Alexis Starr-Cochran 5, Ayanna Gardner 10, Elaina Jones 14, Dacoda Speidel 4, Nurjei Weems 3, Elicia Stevenson 2 ... 3-point shots: Speidel 1, Gardner 2, Starr-Cochran 1 ... Rebound leader: Travis 10, Weems 12 ... Assist leader: Starr-Cochrann 2 ... Steal leader: Weems 3, Gardner 3, Starr-Cochran 3