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Girls Basketball: Toughness on display in Cards' second-half effort

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Willmar's Abby Berskow splits a pair of Orono defenders in Tuesday's Class AAA state tournament opener at the Target Center in Minneapolis. Top-seeded Orono defeated Willmar 59-45. Jake Schultz / Tribune2 / 2

MINNEAPOLIS— The Willmar girls' basketball team could have thrown in the towel, trailing by 21 points with 13 minutes to play in its Class AAA Minnesota State Girls Basketball Tournament quarterfinal game against Orono on Tuesday at the Target Center,

Led by All-Metro Area player and Yale commit Tori Andrew, the top-seeded Spartans simply could not miss to open the second half and they went on to defeat the Cardinals 59-45 .

Instead of calling it quits, Willmar defiantly outplayed Orono for the final stretch of the game, displaying undeterred resilience in the process.

Cardinals forward Cayle Hovland put it more succinctly.

"We're fighters."

Even though the Cardinals found a bit more of their offensive game after making just four field goals in the first half, their opponent simply wasn't missing. The Spartans were nearly perfect to open the half, scoring 14 points on their first five possessions, with Andrew draining three triples and scoring 11 of those points.

Right after that, though, Willmar flipped the script.

Grace Sawyer knocked down a jumper to spark a 10-0 Cardinals run over the next 4:38 to enthuse the players, fans and head coach Dustin Carlson.

"It was a crazy first half, where we only had 13 shots," Carlson said. "I joked with the girls in the locker room at halftime that it was the world record for fewest shots in a half. To cut it down to nine in the second half, our kids gave the effort like we asked them to do."

During that run, guard Hannah Johnson came away with a pair of steals in the open court and raced down the floor for two uncontested layups. After making one of five shots for two points in the first half, Johnson added eight points in the second half to finish with 10 for the game.

"I told myself to push the ball, take more shots and be more aggressive at the rim," Johnson said. "Just being more confident now that we've played a first half on the court during this team. We came out and played with a little more aggressiveness."

Johnson had a couple of looks at the rim to cut the lead down single-digits, but both times the shot rimmed out. Heidi Sellmann—who scored a team-high 11 points—appeared to have a chance at a three-point play to cut the lead to eight, but an official that was located away from the play overruled the original call, saying the foul came was non-shooting.

Abby Berskow's jumper cut the lead to nine points with 3:57 to play, but there simply wasn't enough time for Willmar to complete the comeback.

"I do know that we never gave up," Johnson said. "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."

For anyone who observed the Cardinals in action this season, such an effort against the top-ranked team in the state should come as no surprise. Unfazed by an up-and-down start to the season, Willmar won 11 of its last 12 games to win Section 5AAA. That same ability to bounce back was shown on Tuesday.

Just as Hovland put it, they're fighters.

Curt Hogg

Curt Hogg is a sports reporter at the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2016.