by Eric Oslund
The Elk River girls basketball team headed to Williams Arena once again to square off against Hopkins in the Class AAAA state championship. It was the first time since the establishment of Class AAAA that two undefeated girls basketball teams met in the state finals with perfect records.
Hopkins was able to get things rolling first, scoring on seven of their first eight possessions and giving themselves a 13-7 lead. It wasn’t looking good for the Elks as they were taking multiple low-percentage shots and turning the ball over on too many occasions.
But then the seniors started to settle in and turn things around for their team. First, Sidney Wentland nailed a three pointer to make it 13-10 with 13:16 remaining in the first half.
Hopkins would respond but then Gabi Haack and Danielle Lachmiller would score back-to-back points and make it a two-point game a minute later. Hopkins would once again respond to make it 17-13, but then the Elks would go on a little run of their own.
Haack would drain a three to cut Hopkins’ lead to one, and then Wentland hit a three pointer to give the Elks their first lead of the game with 10:15 remaining in the first half. Haack then drove to the basket, extending their lead to 21-17.
Hopkins wasn’t about to back down, though, and would respond with a little run of their own, outscoring the Elks 5-0 over the next three minutes to retake the lead, 22-21.
7:01 remained in the game and Haack was able to draw a foul. She would make one of her free throws and then Wentland would follow it up with a score. Haack was able to continue her strong first half by driving to the basket, and making the and-1 to give the Elks a 27-22 lead with 3:39 left to play.
Hopkins was able to respond with points of their own, but then it was Lachmiller hitting a shot and Haack going 2-for-2 from the free throw line to make it 32-24 with just under two minutes remaining in the half.
Wentland was then able to hit her third three in the first 18 minutes, after a Hopkins basket, to give the Elks a 35-25 lead with 1:08 remaining on the clock. It was a nice cushion to have heading into halftime, but Hopkins was able to go on a 5-0 run in the last minute of play to cut the Elks’ lead to 35-30 at the intermission.
It was a first half to remember for the Elks, as the team went into the locker room shooting 65 percent from the field and 83.3 percent from beyond the three-point arc. It was a pace that would be difficult to maintain, but it was clear they would have to do their best if they hoped to come out on top.
The second half started much the same way as the first half did, with Hopkins striking first. They cut the lead to 35-33 and then Lachmiller was able to burry another shot from beyond the arc to give her team a little more breathing room.
Hopkins would respond and looked poised to make another run, but then Raena Suggs was called for an intentional foul when she pulled the ponytail of Haack while the Elks guard was setting a screen. That gave Haack two free throws down on the other end, which she would make to give the Elks a 41-34 lead. Lachmiller would follow that up with another three pointer and the girls found themselves up 44-34.
Once again, the Elks found themselves leading the No. 1 seed of the state tournament by 10 points, but the game was not over. Hopkins came back the same way they did at the end of the first half.
They were able to control play for the next six minutes, outscoring the Elks 18-8. They had tied the game 52-52 with 8:02 remaining in regulation.
The No. 1 seed would strike first, taking a 54-52 lead over the Elks. It was their first time on top since they led 22-21 with 7:05 remaining in the first half, but the Elks would answer. Haack tied the game and then Wentland was able to give her team a 57-54 with another three pointer.
Hopkins was able to go down and score after that, but then Kelsie Cox was able to score twice to give her team a 61-56 lead with 4:13 remaining. Hopkins would score with 3:45 remaining to make it 61-58, and then the Elks decided to take control of the pace.
They worked their way into the offensive end and started passing the ball all around the top of the arc. They were beginning to work down the clock. Head coach Jeremy Digiovanni told his team the only way they are shooting is a layup, because he didn’t want to give the ball back to their opponents and give them a chance to tie the game.
It took Hopkins a while to foul the Elks, even though they had some to give. They finally started too and Wentland found herself on the free throw line before too long. She would make both her shots, giving the Elks a 63-58 lead with 47.1 seconds remaining.
Hopkins inbounded the ball and rushed down the court, making it a 63-60 game with 20.5 seconds remaining. They chose to foul Lachmiller and she just needed to make one to really put the game away as there were only 3.1 seconds remaining.
And sure enough, she did. In the end, the Elks would finish off their perfect season with a 64-60 victory over Hopkins. Securing the Class AAAA state title.
It was the second state championship for the city of Elk River this season, after the football team won their state title after going undefeated in the fall. The football team referred to themselves as Team 125 all year long, and the girls basketball team looked to follow suit.
There are 125 days in the girls basketball season, and all season long they talked about wanting to be playing on Day 125. They accomplished that goal Saturday, March 18, 2017 by playing and winning on that final day. Securing another state championship for the Elks.
Box score vs. Hopkins:
Ava Kramer – 0 points, 2 rebounds, 3 assists
Kelsie Cox – 6 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists
Sidney Wentland – 16 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists
Danielle Lachmiller – 17 points, 6 rebounds, 1 assist
Gabi Haack – 25 points, 5 rebounds, 1 assist