Monticello’s senior laden team entered Friday night’s section final with the experience of two section championships under their belts. But this one was different.
Despite the leading roles they played in the first two, they were always playing at least partly for their upperclassmen.
This one was for them.
And as the game winded down the Magic seniors did exactly what was expected of them and they took what they deserved, rallying for a 68-64 win over Orono and a third straight state tournament berth.
“This one meant the most,” said Grace Sawatzke, who scored a team-high 20 points, putting her over the 2,000 point mark for her career. “It was our year.”
It didn’t come easy for the Magic, who trailed for much of the game.
After a back and forth start, Orono grabbed a lead and ran with it. They expanded their lead all the way to ten points late in the first half, before Monticello ended the half on an 8-2 run, spearheaded by five points from Sawatzke in the final 16 seconds.
The halftime score was Orono 34, Monticello 30.
After a three-pointer from Alyssa Lentner brought Monticello to within one to open the second half, Orono used another run to stretch the lead back out to 45-37.
The Spartans would keep Monticello at a distance for a few more minutes, grabbing their biggest second half lead with 13 minutes left, at 50-41.
But the Magic weren’t going to stay down for good.
“We’ve been down before,” said Coach Craig Geyen. “Our girls know, stay the course and good things will happen.”
Led by Emily Gruber, the one Magic contributor who had never played in a section final, Monticello came roaring back.
Gruber scored 13 points over the next seven minutes, bringing Monticello back to even and eventually putting them in front 60-56 with six minutes to go.
“She carried us for a while,” said Geyen.
Orono would pull even one more time, but Lentner, who matched Gruber’s 18 points, kissed a pull-up jumper off the glass for the go-ahead bucket with just over a minute left and free throws from Sawatzke and Lentner down the stretch helped Monticello, and its seniors, seal their third straight state berth.
“They’re unbelievable,” said Geyen, of his players. “They just know what’s expected and they come out and get the job done.”
Monticello, the fifth seed in Class AAA, will take on fourth-seeded Minneapolis Washburn Tuesday night at the Target Center. The game is scheduled to start at 8 p.m. For a preview, click here: http://monticellotimes.com/2014/03/15/state-preview-magic-take-on-washburn-tuesday-night/
For a full story and pictures from Friday night’s section final, please pick up the March 20th edition of the Monticello Times.