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A reprieve came from beyond the 3-point line

The best moment in a sport is when the tension is so thick, time stands still. No sport does it better than basketball in March. When Andrea Brown took the inbounds pass with 13 seconds left and her team down by three points (45-42), the fans at ...

The best moment in a sport is when the tension is so thick, time stands still. No sport does it better than basketball in March.

When Andrea Brown took the inbounds pass with 13 seconds left and her team down by three points (45-42), the fans at Alex Nemzek Hall must have collectively caught their breath.

Janessa Wolff, the Park Rapids' 6-3 center, had just made the second of two free throws to put the Panthers up by three. An upset seemed only seconds away on the Minnesota State-Moorhead campus.

Cardinals head coach Brad Atchison could only watch along with everyone else.

"It looked pretty bleak," he recalled on Tuesday. "We were out of time outs. I felt kind of helpless, but a lot of times it's better not to take a time out that allows the defense time to decide who to focus on."

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To Atchison, it was clear that his 5-1 senior point guard wanted the ball. This was her specialty; clutch shots with the game or season on the line.

"She came up the right side in front our bench, then reversed to her left where Dana Guetter set up a screen to free up Andrea. It was almost like slow motion. She looked so composed; the defense stayed back. I don't think Park Rapids expected her to shoot from that far out, thinking it was beyond her range. But she put it up from 25 or 26 feet and it swished. I don't remember hearing the buzzer but I looked up and there was no time left."

Given second life against the underrated Panthers, the Cardinals won in overtime 53-50 to advance to Friday's final against Fergus Falls, back in Moorhead.

Brown's late heroics and 20-point night barely overshadowed a sterling battle of choice-grade centers. Long-armed and athletic, Wolff finished with 30 points and 14 rebounds. It's said she is being watched closely by several major universities, including Minnesota and Kansas.

"She was very impressive," said Atchison. "She's as good a center as Laura (Nielsen) has defended and as talented as any center I've coached against."

But Willmar's 6-2 post responded to the challenge with a big night of her own, scoring 24 points and gaining five rebounds. She and Brown, two starters back from the 2004 state runners-up, accounted for all but nine of their team's points.

This was a homecoming of sorts for Atchison, who played his high school ball for the Spuds and his college ball at Concordia. His parents and many relatives were in the stands, as well as classmates from his 1973 Moorhead graduating class.

"I'll never forget the shot. I'll go to my grave with a smile on my face. We were fortunate. We were lucky, but she's done that a half dozen times for us," Atchison said of the explosive ending. He conceded the coaches may have taken the Panthers too lightly after seeing them lose by 10 to Staples-Motley in their season finale.

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There's little chance Willmar will let the Otters sneak up on them. Both are 22-4 and split two meetings in the Central Lakes Conference. Fergus Falls knocked Willmar out of the playoffs last year in the semifinal round played at St. Cloud Apollo 44-37.

On the fly

n Ridgewater wrestling coach Jesse Nelson said fifth place at the national tournament wasn't what the team wanted, but he has no quarrel with the way the team performed. "When you win one national championship, you naturally want another," he said. "We're not satisfied with fifth (in Division III) but I'm very proud and pleased with the way we wrestled. You need some breaks in the draws to win a title and we just didn't get them."

n Former Cardinal Nordic skiers who competed at the 33rd annual Birkebeiner Feb. 25 at Hayward, Wis., included Colin Peterson, Adam Feichtinger and Christina Fisher. Some 6,500 skiers participated in either the 51k Birkie or the 23k Kortelopet from Cable to Hayward.

n The Willmar Cardinals comeback against Rocori seems the most significant moment of the season so far. The Cardinals overcame an 11-point deficit to defeat the Spartans. The way the brackets are set up, the conference rivals could meet in the Section 8AAA final for the second year in a row. After Thursday's quarterfinals (the Cardinals host Litchfield) the tournament moves to St. Cloud State for the semifinals and finals.

n Though she came right off a full season of volleyball and is only a freshman, Alyssa Dahl led the Concordia (6-14-3) hockey team in goals (7) and total points (10). Her former linemate at Willmar, freshman Mandi Samuelson, finished tied for third in total points (8), though she lost nine games due to injury .... In his sophomore season, 184-pound Matt Wetterling led North Dakota State in wins (25) and his 18 pins were 14 more than the next Bison. He had no chance for post season since NDSU is transitioning to Division I.

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