by Eric Oslund
The Zimmerman girls basketball team celebrated the program’s first conference championship with a 81-73 win over Becker on Feb. 24. It was a special night for them, but they knew they had to move on quickly as they still had work to do.
The playoffs were just around the corner, and that win also secured the No. 1 seed for the section 5AAA tournament. They received a first-round bye, but then had to face Becker once again on Saturday, March 4, in the semifinal round.
It was the third time this season that the two teams would square off, with the Thunder winning the first two contests, and as anyone who has played sports knows, it’s very difficult to beat the same team three times in one season.
“That’s what they say,” head coach Lance Dalbey said with a laugh. “A team like Becker, my goodness. So young and they’re talented, young players and they’ve grown from the beginning of the year where they had virtually no experience at the varsity level, the majority of their players. This season, to see how far the’ve come, this is a team that we blew away by 30 points back in early January. To see how far they’ve come as a group, you go, ‘Wow.’ You give them a lot of credit for the development of those young kids. They played their butts off, and they’re going to be a handful for a long time.”
The Thunder were red hot to start the game, and quickly jumped out to a 12-point lead. However, they began to cool off after that and weren’t able to capitalize on their free throws. They could have easily gone up by as much as 18 or 20 points, but instead Becker was able to work their way back into it.
The No. 1 seeded Thunder found themselves leading 35-30 at halftime, and eventually trailing by seven points in the second half. Not only that, but they had multiple players in foul trouble. Things were not looking good for them, but they hung in there and were able to battle back.
“We were down seven and nothing was really going our way,” Dalbey explained. “Just weren’t getting the energy and offensively we just weren’t attacking the basket like we needed to. It just didn’t seem like it was going to go our way, but the kids responded well.”
Two players really stood out towards the end of regulation for the Thunder. One was Alyssa Daugherty; she has been the offensive leader for them all season longer and she really stepped up once again in this game as she finished with 31 points. But she was also able to step up her game defensively in the final four or five minutes, which then created a lot of chances for herself and her teammates on the offensive end.
Another player that really stood out was MaKayla Pool, she finished with 12 points and fouled out of the game with about two and half minutes to go in regulation, but she was the one who really got the Thunder back into the game and shifted the momentum back in their favor.
“She’s the one that got us back into it when we’re down six,” the head coach said of Pool. “She made two free throws and then off of a steal on the inbound play she scored again to cut it to two. That was right before she fouled out, but those two possessions there got us right back into the game where you feel the energy start to drain, and all it takes is one or two plays start to happen, and all of a sudden you’re right in it and you start to get that life again.”
The Thunder had a chance to win the game in regulation, but missed a layup at the buzzer, which meant the game was heading to overtime.
They were able to build a lead early in the extra four minutes and never looked back. Because there is such a limited amount of time in overtime, Becker began pressing early, which really played into the Thunder’s advantage. They were able to take things in stride and rode out the final minutes to a 74-67 victory.
Now, they are preparing for the program’s first ever section final appearance, where they will play Willmar on Thursday, March 9. The Thunder were able to beat them 67-48 back on Jan. 27, but they know the section final will be much more difficult.
“Since we beat them, I think they’ve lost one game and they’ve played real well,” Dalbey said. “They’re strong, they’re big, they’re physical and so they have some things going for them. They have some good, experience players, so we’re going to have our hands full for sure.”