Section girls basketball: Detroit Lakes knocks off Willmar in 8AAA finals
The Cardinals fail to earn their first state state berth since 2018 with a 46-43 loss to Detroit Lakes in the Section 8AAA final.
ALEXANDRIA — It was a game they really, really wanted, since a victory meant they'd achieve one of their top priorities of the season.
And for five senior starters on the Willmar girls basketball team, it also meant the last opportunity to get to state since they began playing together as fourth-graders.
"We were this close," said Willmar senior forward Ella Shinn as she held her finger and thumb about an inch-and-a-half apart. "But it slipped away from us a little bit."
Detroit Lakes won the Section 8AAA championship Thursday night at Jefferson High School, beating the Cards 46-43.
It enabled the third-seeded Lakers to earn their first state Class AAA tournament berth since 2009. And they did it after falling 54-26 to Willmar on Jan. 7.
And they did it Thursday with not a single senior getting on the floor during the game.
"We've been known as the young team all year," said Detroit Lakes head coach Rachel Johnson. "It definitely showed right away when we started off 1-7.
"But I told them that my expectations from the girls was once February hit, your excuse of being young doesn't work anymore."
Detroit Lakes has won five in a row and eight of its last nine games.
It was the top-seeded Cardinals who started strong. They led 21-9 with 4:55 to go in the first half and were clicking on all cylinders. Willmar's inside game dominated, with Shinn scoring 10 of her 12 points.
"We started out with a lot of energy and just playing our game," Shinn said. "And they just started hitting some key shots and that just gave them the edge to take over the game.
"I think that's where their momentum started building. It was a different game after that."
The Lakers took advantage of three Willmar turnovers in the final 2:01 of the first half to close the deficit to 21-17.
From there, it was close, back-and-forth and intense, with loud student sections, bands from both high schools playing and a good-sized crowd at the 2,528-seat gymnasium.
"Willmar did a good job of making some adjustments (in the second half) and we made some adjustments," Johnson said.
Detroit Lakes grabbed its first lead of the second half on a 3-pointer by Ella Okeson at 13:55 that made it 24-23.
Things went back and forth after that, with each possession seemingly more important than the last.
Willmar tied it up at 32-32 on a 3-pointer by Ellary Lange. The grabbed their a lead at 41-38 on a 3-pointer by Zoe Schroeder, who finished with 12 points.
But, Detroit Lakes tied it up at 41-41. Willmar went back up 43-41 on an inside basket by Shinn off a pretty pace by Sammy Christoffer with 3:37 to go. Christoffer got into traffic in the lane and found Shinn for the lay-in.
The Lakers' Abby Larson then drained a 3-pointer to take a 44-43 lead with 2:33 to play.
That's where it seemed to stay forever with missed opportunities for both sides. The Cards couldn't get a shot to fall and the scrappy Lakers were hustling for every rebound and tying up Willmar players for them if they didn't get there first.
"We just weren't able to finish tonight," said Willmar senior guard Jaida Reiman, whose smile belied the tears she shed afterward. "We had some turnovers that led to some points for them. It was tough."
After a miss, Willmar was forced to foul with 15.9 seconds left. The Lakers' Grace Gunderson made the first free throw, but missed the second to give Detroit Lakes a 46-43 lead.
Then, there was another Cardinal turnover and another foul. Willmar stole it back with 9.7 seconds left, but missed again. They had the ball with 3.7 seconds to go, but a long 3-point attempt bounced off the rim. The season was over.
"It was tough," Shinn admitted.
"I mean, it's hard," Reiman said. "It's kind of been our goal the whole season to that game and as I've said before, the five seniors have been together since Booster ball (as fourth-graders).
"I'm proud of this team and what they've been able to do. I'm grateful for the season we've had."
The state Class AAA quarterfinals are Wednesday at the Maturi Pavilion on the University of Minnesota campus in Minneapolis. Pairings will be announced after coaches seed the teams this weekend.
"Heartbreaker tonight," Willmar head coach Dustin Carlson said. "(I) just feel sick for our girls.
"They prepared hard and did what we asked them to do. (I'm) at a loss for words. ...
"I feel awful for this group to fall short of their goal, especially for these seniors," Carlson said. "These girls aren’t just players, they are like our daughters. This one is going to rip at our hearts for awhile."
Detroit Lakes 46, Willmar 43
Detroit Lakes (13-12) 17 29 — 46
Willmar (19-8) 21 22 — 43
DETROIT LAKES - Scoring: Abby Larson 12, Helena Daggett 7, Ella Okeson 9, Elle Bettcher 4, Grace Gunderson 5, Jacie Hauser 9 … 3-point shots: Larson 2, Daggett 1, Okeson 2, Hauser 3
WILLMAR - Scoring: Brielle Ogdahl 5, Ellary Lange 10, Zoe Schroeder 12, Kenedee Salonek 3, Jaida Reiman 1, Ella Shinn 12 … 3-point shots: Ogdahl 1, Lange 2, Salonek 1, Schroeder 2 Rebound leaders: Shinn 10, Reiman 7 … Assist leaders: Shinn 3, Reiman 3 … Steal leaders: Sammy Christoffer 2, Lange 2 ... Block leader: Four players with 1