3/16/2018 1:20:00 PM Wildcats state dream shattered by Hamling's sharpshooting
Once Heaven Hamling hit a near half court shot to end a first half offensive onslaught for Grand Rapids, the Chisago Lakes girls basketball team knew it was in for a long night at the Section 7AAA championship game in Cambridge-Isanti on Thursday, March 8.
Hamling’s long distance shot capped off a 21-point first half from her that saw the Thunderhawks take a 45-29 lead into the locker room, one they wouldn’t relinquish all night. Chisago Lakes started out well early on. The Thunderhawks were clearly going to key in on Carmen Backes, and at first, the other ‘Cats were up to the task. Sarah Bjelland, Lydia Rehder and Heather Elfering all hit big shots, and Chisago Lakes had an 11-10 lead. But, that’s when Hamling heated up.
She hit three pointers from all around the perimeter. She hit open three pointers, she hit three pointers while closely guarded. She was precise in her shots and rarely missed. No matter how much the ‘Cats tried to answer with Backes or anyone else, the Hawks would return fire with Hamling, Liberty Blaine or Hannah DeMars, but mostly, it seemed, Hamling. “We threw a lot of different looks at Heaven,” Head Coach Craig Walker said. “ But she was just on fire in the first half.”
Near the end of the first half, disaster struck for CL as Bjelland hit the floor with a leg injury that ended up being a torn ACL. She had been one of the ‘Cats best players in the game up until that point, and her absence really left an already-shorthanded CL roster scrambling.
To begin the second half, the Thunderhawks went a little cold and the ‘Cats took advantage, feeding sophomore Sophie Wood down low for back-to-back baskets in the paint. The ‘Cats then had a chance to knock the lead down to single digits with a three pointer, but they misfired and Rapids came back down the court and knocked down a three pointer of their own to stretch the lead back to 15.
Throughout the second half, Elfering hit some big shots to give the Wildcats a small glimmer of hope, but Rapids would always answer the bell. Whenever the Hawks went cold, Chisago Lakes followed suit, and when the ‘Cats finally hit a shot, Rapids was right there to respond.
Backes and Hannah Gillach had both gotten in some early foul trouble for the ‘Cats, and it severely limited their ability to defend. The Wisconsin-bound senior was already having a tough night shooting on the offensive end, but the fouls really hampered her ability to affect the game in other ways.
Backes picked up her fourth foul with over nine minutes left in the game. Three of them were offensive fouls that arguably could have gone either way, but the referees called a tight game all night. Walker was left with no choice but to sit Backes down with his team trailing by 20 points, which wasn’t an ideal scenario.
After Grand Rapids’ lead quickly ballooned to 25 points, Walker brought Backes back in, but at that point, it was nearly a foregone conclusion who would win the game.
She eventually fouled out when the ‘Cats were scrambling for a ball, and the senior left to a rousing standing ovation from the Chisago Lakes crowd and a big bear hug from Walker.
The crowd gave similar cheers to other seniors who departed the game over the last few minutes. Giving them their final salute as they walked off the court for the last time as a Chisago Lake Wildcat. By the time the final buzzer sounded, the Thunderhawks had won 79-59 and punched their third straight ticket to the state tournament, leaving the ‘Cats out in the cold as the section runner up.
Elfering led the Wildcats with 16 points. Backes had 14 points and eight rebounds, both well below her season averages of 26 points and 13 rebounds. “Heather played her best game of the year and it was tough to see Carmen go out the way she did, but those two led us well in the past few weeks to come together for section play,” Walker said. “Our group of seniors has been a special one that have stayed with the program and their leadership got us back to the section final for the first time in four years.”