Girls basketball: Thunder Hawks earn a dramatic victory

Montevideo beats a tough West Central Knights squad 39-37 to advance to the 3AA-North final
Montevideo junior Avery Koenen drives the ball to the basket while being guarded by West Central Area junior Claire Stark on Tuesday, March 1, 2022 during a Section 3AA matchup at Willmar High School.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune

WILLMAR — A late 14-2 run nearly brought the first upset of March with the fourth-seeded West Central Area Knights on the verge of eliminating top-seeded Montevideo.
But, a late mid-range jumper by junior Tenley Epema helped the Thunder Hawks escape the Knights 39-37 on Tuesday in the Section 3AA-North playoffs.
Montevideo plays second-seeded New London-Spicer at 7 p.m. Friday at Glenwood. At stake is a berth in the Section 3AA championship game.
With the scored tied 37-37, Epema scored on a 12-footer with 19.8 seconds remaining to give Montevideo the late lead.
It may not have been a buzzer-beater, but it would become the final bucket of the night. The Knights' last shots resulted in two blocks and an air-ball.

RELATED: Girls basketball: West Central Area's second-half surge falls just short against top seed

"We were just trying to get a really good shot," Epema said about her bucket. "We were just trying to look for a really good shot."
The junior finished with nine points.
"It was really fun to play in a game like this," Epema said. "I wasn't shooting well the whole night. So that was nice to help contribute and get the win."
Junior Avery Koenen led the Thunder Hawks with 18 points, scoring 12 in the first half.
Koenen helped prevent the Knights from making a clutch bucket in the closing seconds with a block of a shot by senior guard Lexi Bright.
West Central Area was by Bright's 12 points.
"Obviously, I wouldn't have been able to do any of this without my teammates," Koenen said. "I'm just super proud about how we executed, even when our shots weren't falling."
Montevideo freshman guard Teagan Epema, at left, brings the ball up the court while West Central Area senior Lexi Bright defends Tuesday, March 1, 2022 during a Section 3AA matchup at Willmar High School.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune

Montevideo previously defeated the Knights 56-52 on Jan. 31 in Barrett.
"I thought it was a great victory for our basketball team," Montevideo head coach Anthony Jackson said. "We have the utmost respect for West Central. They went to the state tournament last year. Lexi Bright is a 2,000-point scorer. We knew it was going to be a close game tonight."
A close game it was.

Game action video:

Koenen scored the first six points of the game before the Knights went on a 9-0 run.
After trailing 14-8, the Thunder Hawks managed a comeback with back-to-back 3-pointers to ignite a 15-2 run and take a 21-16 lead into halftime.

Freshman Teagan Epema shoots a close-range basket while being heavily guarded by West Central Area athletes Tuesday, March 1, 2022 during a Section 3AA matchup at Willmar High School.

Montevideo took a 31-21 lead, the largest lead of the night, with 10 minutes remaining.
This would ignite the Knights' 14-2 run that gave the Knights a brief 35-33 lead.
After Epema's go-ahead bucket, the Knights had chances to tie, including getting the ball on their side of the court with 3.3 seconds remaining after a turnover by Montevideo, but were unable to convert.
"I'm proud of their effort," Knights' coach Eric Schoenbauer said. "They never gave up."
The Thunder Hawks now prepare for a rematch with the Wildcats, a team they haven't seen since Dec. 16 when Montevideo won 68-54.
"I feel like this gives us confidence for our next game," Koenen said. "We obviously know what we're going to need to do against New London-Spicer. But we're just going to have to play as a team."

Section 3AA-North

Montevideo 39, West Central 37

West Central (18-6)      16   21 — 37

Montevideo (23-3)       21   18 — 39

WEST CENTRAL - Scoring: Macy Grosz 8, Mya Foslien 2, Lexi Bright 12, Addison Staples 4, Kaitlyn Hansen 3, Claire Stark 8  … 3-point shots: Grosz 2, Hansen 1.

MONTEVIDEO - Scoring: Teagan Epema 2, Tenley Epema 9, Kiera Foley 2, Avery Koenen 18, Keely Foley 2, Hailey Dirksen … 3-point shots: T. Epema 1, Koenen 1.

Matthew Curry is a sports reporter and photographer for the West Central Tribune.
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