by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
A year after missing “state” on a last-second shot, the Rogers Royals earned another opportunity and this time left nothing to chance.
Led by Maria Loughlin, the Royals tumbled Monticello 51-36 for the Section 5AAA championship Friday night at Buffalo in a duel of two 14-14 teams.
Loughlin pumped in 22 points and snagged seven rebounds. The three-year starter at guard missed last year’s sectional with a knee injury.
“Her best game of the year,” lauded coach Jeremy Digiovanni. “That’s what you want from your seniors in the playoffs.”
All but two members were back from last year’s team that finished 19-10 with a 44-43 loss to Annanadale on a last-second shot off an inbounds pass.
“Ever since we lost that game, this was the game we’ve been playing for,” said Emily Reichert, the fiery junior point guard who’s a third-year starter like Loughlin.
Despite having most of the team back, the Royals were just 12-14 in the regular season, losing five of their last six.
“I thought we’d do better (in conference), but it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish,” said Loughlin. “We knew how badly everyone wanted to make it this year.”
The record is a bit misleading because the Royals had six overtime games and lost five of them.
“We had a lot of tough games but I think that prepared us for the playoffs,” said junior forward Jordyn Motter.
Like all the Royals, last year’s near-miss was a searing memory.
“I was the one who got scored-upon, actually,” said Motter, who gave up the basket to a much taller player. “That was a tough loss and it gave us more incentive for this year.”
The Royals beat Dassel-Cokato 45-39 in their section opener, then toppled two teams against whom they had split in conference play — Princeton 61-50 in the semifinals and then Monticello.
“I can’t say enough about how well these girls have played the last three games,” said Digiovanni. “And now they’ve got the opportunity to play in the state tournament.”
The Royals will take a 15-14 record to state Class AAA which starts Wednesday. The coaches will vote on seeding, with the 1-2-3-4 teams all paired at ramdom with an unseeded team. The games will be at 10 a.m., noon, and 2 and 4 p.m.
The Royals were seeded No. 2 and Monticello No. 4 in a section with just one winning team, Big Lake (19-7), whom the Magic toppled 53-48 in the semifinals.
Fresh from that upset, the Magic took a 10-3 lead on the Royals, but couldn’t keep them down long.
“They have good players and they have worked hard all season, just like us, so we knew it was going to be a hard-fought game,” said Reichert. “We came out a little shaky but we remembered last year and we were not going to lose this game.”
Rogers led 22-16 by halftime, with Motter sinking six straight free shots (after missing two) to help stabilize them.
Loughlin, who had seven points in the first half, led a big run early in the second half. The lefthander delivered two 3-pointers from the corner, and another big play where she rebounded, drove the length of the court and dished to Shelby Beach, who canned another trey from the same spot.
That put the Royals up 35-22. Soon it was 40-22 and the suspense was over.
Loughlin was averaging 12 points her junior year when she suffered a knee injury and missed the last eight games. This year she’s averaging 9.6 points. She said her knee is fine but she just had “kind of rough year” anyway.
But Loughlin was on fire in the section finals with three 3-point shots and 5-for-6 at the line.
The Royals won handily despite shooting horribly on the inside with just two close-range baskets the whole game. They had five 3-pointers, were 20-for-30 at the line, and outrebounded the Magic 35-28. Monticello, pressured by the Royals throughout, shot poorly both inside and outside after a good start.
Soph forward Courtney McClay added seven points, eight rebounds and two steals for the Royals. Beach and Motter had six points each, and Morgan Edstrom five, with seven rebounds. Reichert had five points and five rebounds.
“We missed a lot of layups but we made just enough shots to win,” said Digiovanni, “and our defense was solid the whole game. We identified a couple of key players and the girls did a good job of that.”
That duo was guard Trish Jude, who scored 11 points, and forward Morgan Sawatzke, who scored nine. Probably Monticello’s key player was 5-9 post Morgan Lindenfelser, who speared 14 rebounds although she scored just three points.
This will be Rogers’ third state trip, and their first without a star-studded lineup like the 2006 and 2008 squads coached by Lamar Detert. Top scorers are Motter (10.8 ppg), Reichert (10.0) and Loughlin (9.6).
The girl hoopsters are RHS’s fifth state tournament team of the school year, following girls soccer (state champs), football (runners-up), dance team and gymnasts.
Rogers 51, Monticello 36
Monticello ….. 16 20 — 36
Rogers ……….. 22 29 — 51
Monticello — Morgan Sawatzke 9 (2 stl), Trish Jude 11, Grace Sawatzke 4 (3 stl), Morgan Lindsenfelser 3 (14 reb, 2 blk), Terae Demarais 2 (5 reb), Gabby Laimer 3, Kelly Watson 2, Bailey Bechtold 2 …. Fouled out: M. Sawatzke … Team totals: 25 rebounds, 16 turnovers, 8-15 free throws, 21 fouls
Rogers — Emily Reichert 5 (5 reb), Shelby Beach 6, Maria Loughlin 22 (7 reb), Jordyn Motter 6 (4 reb), Morgan Edstrom 5 (7 reb, 2 blk), Courtney McClay 7 (8 reb, 2 stl) … Team totals: 34 rebounds, 12 turnovers, 20-30 free throws, 15 fouls