by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
Elk River’s bid to knock off the No. 2 seed was on track for about 24 minutes Saturday evening before the Elks went ice-cold and lost to a smart, talented St. Michael-Albertville team 50-39.
The No. 3 seeded Elks led 28-21 early in the second half of the Section 8AAAA semifinal at St. Cloud State but made just four of their last 25 attempts from the field, spooked by a Knight defense that challenged just about every dribble and every shot.
“We missed a few shots and they made theirs, and they started to get the momentum,” lamented Kayti Hanson, one of six Elk seniors bowing out. “We had em beat until then.”
The Elks finished 16-11 while STMA (23-4) advanced to an all-Mississippi 8 final against Buffalo (24-3), which beat St. Clout Tech 74-59.
“They ramped up the pressure on us and got the transition game going,” said Elk coach Reed Caouette. “We knew we had to slow down their transition game because they CAN score points. Once we started missing some inside ones, we never got back in groove. We never found the combination that could give us some spark.”
With neither team shooting well overall, STMA had a 45-38 rebound edge and a 15-22 turnover edge while outscoring the Elks at the line 14-fo4-29 to 7-for-13.
Guard Jessie Van Whye led STMA with 13 points and 5 steals. Center Rachel Valley had 9 points and 13 rebounds, and forward Natalie Van Whye 9 points and 9 rebounds.
Makenzie Frericks and Jordyn Sohns scored 10 points each for the Elks and Hanson had 9.
Frericks, senior forward, scored 8 in the first half but finished 3-for-15 from the field. Hanson had 8 points in the first 8 minutes on 3 layups and a putback. Annie Sizen, whose 3-point shooting is a key to any upset bid, was 2-for-5 outside the arc for 6 points as the Knights shadowed her effectively. Frericks led with 12 rebounds.
Knight coach Kent Hamre, who scouted the Elks in their 71-57 win over Moorhead on Tuesday, assessed: “A lot of teams are one-dimensional but not Elk River. They’ve got a couple nice posts and the outside game as well, with Sizen, she can shoot from anywhere and we knew we had to contain her.”
STMA, after trailing 26-20 at halftime and then 28-21, surged to a 31-31 tie with three straight baskets on fast breaks, and never relinquished their momentum. It helped that the Elks seemed to be hurrying their shots and muffing what opportunities they had.
“It was a tale of two halves,” said Hamre. “In the first half, we couldn’t get anything to drop and in the second half they couldn’t get anything to drop.”
STMA had a week off due to its No. 1 seed and was a little “stagnant” in the first half, not moving the ball very well, said Hamre.
The Elks were 11-9 in the NWSC for fifth place among 11 teams and finished five games over .500 overall.
“We came in with high expectations,” said Caouette. “It was a senior dominated team and had experience. And the kids did it. They had a great season. They worked hard all year and really played together well.”