Almost as important as being in control, is believing that you are in control. Being in control without believing it doesn’t do much good. And believing you’re in control, even when you’re not, can mitigate damage.
Saturday night, at least according to the scoreboard, Monticello spent the first half of their section semifinal game lacking control.
Yet, the Magic girls basketball team never gave the impression that they lost control. The top seed stayed poised despite a double digit deficit in the first half. And when the disciplined defense started creating turnovers and the shots started falling for the offense, Monticello made its run, just as it always believed it would, earning a hard fought 65-54 victory over the Big Lake Hornets.
“I don’t think we were nervous,” said Grace Sawatzke, who scored a game high 26 points. “We knew what we needed to do. As our coaches say, we know we have enough things in our toolbox that we can find a way to win.”
In this one, Monticello (23-5), had to dig a little deeper than usual into that toolbox.
Big Lake, who Monticello had beaten twice this year, by margins of 20 and 30 points, came out in a 2-3 zone on defense. The defense was intent on taking away Monticello’s driving ability. By doing that, the Hornets tempted the Magic into settling for three point looks for much of the first half. While the guards continued to get good looks from the outside, they couldn’t get them to drop. And as the shooting woes stretched through the first half, the Hornets started extending their early lead. A three-pointer from Gabby Laimer had cut the lead to 10-9 six minutes into the game, but that would be the last one the Magic would hit for a while. An 11-2 run put the underdog Hornets in front 21-11 with 8:30 left in the first half.
The Magic took a timeout.
Before the timeout they had shown the first signs of panic, a couple of rushed shots and bad turnovers. But as the timeout ended, Monticello again gave off a calm aura.
“The three pointer was open, but it wasn’t falling,” said Sawatzke. “We knew we had to get to the basket and get to the free throw line.”
The junior guard came out and did just that.
Out of the timeout Sawatzke scored on a drive and got fouled for a three-point play, then added another layup to bring the Magic back with in striking distance.
After a Kallie Gau layup, Sawatzke hit Monticello’s second three of the game, cutting the deficit to 23-21.
Big Lake didn’t wilt. The Hornets hit a couple of big jump shots down the stretch to complement strong inside play from Emily Gruber (16 points) to hold a slim lead (31-29) at the half.
Still, there was no panic from Monticello.
“Our defense will lead to our offense,” Coach Craig Geyen told the girls at half. “We’re fine.”
And they were. After giving up the first bucket of the half, Monticello went on an 11-0 run to officially grasp the control that they had given the appearance of having all game long.
And, not suprisingly, the run was started by their defense, something that has been a season-long strength.
A steal by Alyssa Lentner led to a lay-up for Sawatzke, and a steal by Bailey Bechtold led to free throw attempts for Laimer. Laimer would hit one, giving Monticello a lead it wouldn’t relinquish. A driving layup for Lentner, a layup for Sawatzke and a steal from Sawatzke leading to a Christine Lui layup extended that lead all the way to 40-33.
“When we got ahead by five, it just kind of kicked [our confidence up],” said Lentner
Monticello would have no real reason for doubt the rest of the game. A Lentner three stretched the lead to 45-35, and even after a mini-Magic slump down the stretch, the Hornets would draw no closer than six points. A timely finish and free throw from Sawatzke, a pull-up jump from Lentner and a driving layup for Lui all helped Monticello maintain its cushion as the girls earned their third straight section final berth. All despite shooting 3 for 22 from three.
“We’re happy that we can find a way to win, even though we can’t make a three,” said Sawatzke. “We still have confidence and we know we’re a good enough team to win games like that.”
Next up for the Magic is a Friday night date with Dassel Cokato. The game represents a rematch of last year’s section final which was won by Monticello (read Blast from the Past for more), as well as a rematch of a game earlier this season that Monti won 52-45.
After the section semifinal game (and before the Magic knew their opponent), Coach Geyen said the Magic will certainly prepare for their opponent, but that they’re equally worried about their own team.
“We’re going to keep stressing do what we do well,” said Geyen. “We’re gonna make sure we know what they do well, but we’re going to play our game.”
The section final game is scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday at Buffalo High School. The winner advances to the Class AAA state tournament which begins Wednesday, March 13.
Contact Clay Sawatzke at [email protected]