March 19, 2009 at 9:08 a.m.
March 19, 2009
North Branch's postseason comes to screeching halt against familiar foe
Totino-Grace’s size and defense shut down NB for the third time this year
Defying early season expectations, the North Branch girls basketball team took on the defending state champion Totino-Grace Eagles in the Section 3AAA championship game.
With only one senior on their roster, the Vikings were expected to be rebuilding for a future run at the section title. "If you would've told me at the beginning of the year we would be playing in the section championship game, I would've taken that in a heartbeat," Head Coach Dan Schindler said.
But, after going 14-12 in the regular season, the girls earned the second seed in Section 3, which happens to be top heavy. All three games ended up being rematches with familiar North Suburban Conference teams.
In the first round, the Vikings knocked the Chisago Lakes Wildcats off for the third time this year. In the semi-finals, the Vikes played Spring Lake Park, a team they had split with in the regular season. Forty minutes later and the Vikings had done the improbable. They used their speed, quickness and deadly accuracy from the free throw line to come out on top.
The win, of course, got them a third go-around with the Eagles. In the two previous meetings, Totino-Grace had won by 28 and 40, respectively, so the Vikings were going to have to bring their 'A' game. "We just don't match up very well with Totino," Schindler said. "We are always smaller than all the team we play, but can usually use that as an advantage with our quickness. Totino has both the size and quickness, and we don't win many of those match ups."
As soon as things started, it was quickly evident that the Eagles were on a mission to not let the Vikes hang around at all.
Totino had already built a quick 10-4 lead when they bursted out on an 11-0 run to take a 21-4 lead. The Vikings had been stuck at four points for a good chunk of the first 10 minutes.
Junior Becca Collins and sophomore Kendra Norman got to work then. Collins was the Vikings only inside presence in the game, and she continuously took a beating down low by the Totino bigs. But, she showed her resilience in netting a few straight baskets to start chipping away at the lead.
Norman's defensive prowess was flashed when she created a turnover after a Collins basket and cruised in for the easy lay up.
However, Totino-Grace responded with defensive pressure of their own to stretch the lead back to 33-14 as time was winding down in the first stanza.
With the ball in their possession, the Vikings had the final possession of the first half. They needed some momentum for the second half, and they got just that when a loose ball bounced into Jessica Audette's hands at the three-point line and she drilled it as the clock read zero.
The basket pulled the Vikings within 16, and it was a basket they desperately needed if they wanted to make any sort of run at the Eagles in the second half.
The Eagles quickly shot that idea down early in the first half, however, when they came out hotter than an inferno. It seemed the Eagles couldn't miss a shot, and even when they did, their post players, who dwarfed the Vikings, would snatch the offensive rebounds. Even when the Vikings played smothering defense, the Eagles had second, third and fourth opportunities at some baskets.
As the clock slowly ticked down, it became evident that the Vikings weren't going to be able to make a run at the Eagles big lead.
Collins led the Vikes' offensive output with eight points. Norman add seven and Rikki Beaver had five.
"You have to give credit to Totino, they win games like we always try to do, and that's with defense," Schindler explained. "They really did a nice job on Kendra, and they really limited us in good shot attempts the whole game."
North Branch 17 9 26
Totino-Grace 33 27 60
NORTH BRANCH SCORING
Collins 8, Norman 7, Beaver 5, Audette 3, Helbig 3
The only senior that will be departing from the program is Megan Scherer, who had mono at the end of the season and wasn't able to play in the last two games.
Although they lost to the overpowering Eagles, the experience the girls gained will no doubt help them next year when they are all back for another run at a section title and a state tournament berth.
For now, however, they are relegated to watching Totino-Grace defend their state title.
"I would like to thank all our fans and parents for their support this year," Schindler said. "I think they saw our girls give great effort every game and it was a much better team at the end of the season. I am cofident this group of girls will get in the gym this summer and work hard to improve their game."
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