Vikings upset top seed in state opener

Minneota moved one step closer to defending its Class A state crown with a 51-48 overtime upset victory over top-seeded Mt. Iron-Buhl in the quarterfinals Thursday at the University of Minnesota's Maturi Pavilion.

"When I told the girls that we drew the number one seed for our first game, they thought I was joking," said coach Chad Johnston. "But I told them to be the best, you have to beat the best. Nothing is easy here because all the teams are good."

Minneota (27-4) plays the winner of the Cass Lake-Bena vs. Hayfield game at noon today in the semifinals at Williams Arena.

The 48 points was the lowest output of the season for Mt. Iron-Buhl, which entered the game averaging 84 points per game.

"We kept the pressure on them and our defense was the difference," said Johnston. "We put the press on and we forced a couple of turnovers that got us going in the second half."

The Rangers' three prior losses this season came against 4A ranked teams.

Minneota twice climbed out of large deficits against the Rangers. The Vikings trailed by 12 points at halftime, only to rally back and tied the game 30-30 with 10:25 left.

The Rangers (27-4) then built their lead back to 11 points at 43-32 with 4:30 remaining in the second half.

Again, the Vikings' never-say-die attitude emerged as they went on an 11-3 run, highlighted by a pair of McKenna Yost three-pointers, to bring them within 45-42.

The Vikings were forced to foul and the Rangers missed a pair of free throws before Natalee Rolbiecki drained a three-pointer to tie the game. After an MIB turnover, the Vikings had two chances to win in regulation in the final 11 seconds. Yost's three-point attempt hit the rim and Rolbiecki got the rebound underneath but couldn't get her shot to fall at the buzzer.

After Rolbiecki blocked a shot in the four-minute overtime, Yost was fouled on a drive to the basket at the other end. She cashed both free throws for a 47-45 lead with 3:06 to go.

Minneota's starting point guard, McKenzie Tolk, then fouled out and Hali Savela made one of two free throws at 1:48.

The Rangers regained the lead on a pair of free throws by Sage Ganyo before Ireland Stassen scored underneath on a feed from Yost, giving the Vikings a 49-48 lead with 24 seconds left.

The Rangers misfired on their next attempt and the Vikings got the ball in Yost's hands. The senior guard was fouled with 2.6 seconds left and hit both free throws to cap the win.

Rolbiecki then intercepted a MIB pass just prior to the final buzzer.

"It's nice to knock off the number one seed," said Rolbiecki. "Now we have to keep playing well and take them one at a time."

Johnston, who starts four seniors, said that experience was important in this game.

"They have the experience because they've been here before," Johnston said. "I wanted the ball in McKenna's hands at the end. She made the free throws when we needed them."

Yost, who finished with a game-high 22 points, admitted to being a little nervous at the free-throw line.

"Yeah, I was a little nervous," she said. "I knew I needed to make at least one of the free throws because they had to go the full length of the court in two seconds. When I made the first one, I let out a big sigh of relief."

Rolbiecki had 12 points, Tolk nine, Stassen six, and Jeren Rost two.

Savela and Jordan Zubich had 14 points each for Mt. Iron-Buhl, which plays in the consolation today at Concordia University.

See more about this game and the other state tournament games in next week's Mascot.

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