Jessica Kreitz missed a free throw that could have given the Pequot Lakes Patriots a two-point lead.
So she got the rebound, made the putback and got fouled again. She made her next free throw and that was the difference as the third-seeded Patriots upset the top-seeded Crosby-Ironton Rangers 58-54 to return to the Section 8-2A championship game.
“This feels really good,” said Pequot senior Mattie Lueck. “Hopefully, we can go and get it and make it back to state.”
As expected, Tuesday’s contest between the Mid-State Conference rivals was physical and close. The game featured 14 lead changes and three ties. Six of those lead changes came in the final four minutes.
Lueck’s final basket accounted for the last lead change and handed Pequot a 52-51 edge. Vanessa Lane’s only basket, a free throw, pushed the lead to 53-51.
C-I’s Chelsey Bonsante made one of two free throws to set up Kreitz’s situation.
“It’s those little things,” said Lueck. “Every team has their go-to players. We knew the ball was going to Chelsey Bonsante, but what it comes down to is the other players and all-around we have better scorers and we had a better attack.”
Both teams added two more points for the final score, which will pit the Patriots against Hawley, which beat Pelican Rapids 47-41 Tuesday, in the other subsection final.
Lueck led all scorers with 27 points. The lone returning starter from Pequot’s section championship team of a year ago also played quality defense on Bonsante.
“Our game plan was to not shut down (Bonsante), but to just try and slow her down,” said Lueck. “We’ve always had it offensively, but defense has always been our weakness.”
C-I’s junior point guard still managed 23 points, with 12 of those coming in the second half. Teammate Missy Foote scored eight of her 10 points in the second half and owned the boards, until Kreitz grabbed the most important one.
“We talked about rebounding for two weeks,” said Pequot head coach Jon Dale. “I had to flip out at them at halftime to tell them that if we don’t hit the boards we go home. There was no other words in the English language that I could come up with. I ran out of words to explain it to them.
“It’s just a battle when we play each other, but we pulled it off. That was a great play by Jessica.”
Kreitz finished with seven points. Kayla Miller and Megan Hogen each tallied eight for the Patriots, who have won seven straight and improved to 18-11.
“I honestly thought earlier in the year, after the summer we had, that we were going to surprise people,” said Dale. “It was tough and it was a learning experience. I told the girls at the beginning of the year that we were going to be tough by the end. I told them that they could play with anybody, including the south side. We just had to hang in there.
“We lost six games by a bucket and two others by six points or less. We lost to some really good teams. I knew this was going to be a process and I think they got it and we’re playing pretty good basketball right now.”
The Rangers held a 23-22 halftime edge, but committed 17 second-half turnovers. Still Pequot couldn’t take advantage as it shot 32 percent (20-63) from the field. The largest lead was five points, which both teams enjoyed in the first half.
C-I held four-point leads four different times in the second half. Pequot’s largest lead of the second was one until Miller’s two free throws for the final score.
“The game that Pequot does that we needed to do a better job in stopping was the transition and then on their offensive rebounds,” said C-I head coach Randy Swanhorst. “It is one of those things where you just have to tip your hat sometimes. They got in there and got rebounds and we sure had some mental lapses at the end of the game.
“It’s a sad time every year. I know you hear it a lot, but this was a really good group of girls. I enjoyed getting up in the morning to work with them every day. It was just a great group of kids. That’s the real hurt.”
Pequot Lakes 22 36 — 58
Crosby-Ironton 23 31 — 54
Mattie Lueck 27, Vanessa Lane 1, Jessica Kreitz 7, Rachel Mott 5, Katie White 2, Megan Hogen 8, Kayla Miller 8. FG 20-63 (32 percent), FT 13-18 (72 percent), 3-point basket: 4-9 (44 percent).
Chelsey Bonsante 23, Bailey Swensen 3, Meredith Silgen 8, Shannon Lundgren 5, Sienna Miller 5, Missy Foote 10. FG 22-51 (43 percent), FT 6-9 (67 percent), 3-point basket: 4-10 (40 percent).
JEREMY MILLSOP may be reached at email@example.com or at 855-5856.