It is often said in sports that it's more important how you finish than how you start.
Never has that been more evident than with the Central Lakes College Raiders women's basketball team as it clinched a state playoff berth by beating the Fergus Falls Spartans 71-67 Thursday night.
The Raiders started the season by winning only one of their first seven games. They finished the season on a tear by winning five of their last six, including an upset win over then top-ranked Rainy River, to finish the regular season with an 8-6 North Division record. "I'm just so happy for these girls," Raiders coach Dennis Eastman said. "We got on a roll, but we still haven't played our best game yet. We're doing things that drive me crazy but they're learning how to win and if they make mistakes they forget them and move on."
Leading the way for the Raiders was Val Diedrich, who poured in a game-high 24 points, 12 in each half.
"The other players look to her for leadership," Eastman said. "She's not vocal, but what we need is someone to step up and play. She got into a rhythm tonight and just let it go."
Cassey Veith was also instrumental in the Raiders' win. In addition to scoring 12 points, Veith drew the duty of guarding Spartans guard Naomi Moerke, the second-leading scorer in the North Division, holding her to eight points, 10 below her season average.
"Cassey does all the little things that people don't see in the scorebook," said Eastman. "She's always playing somebody tough on defense. She's a sneaky player and really knows the game of basketball. She's just a good player."
The Raiders held a slim 20-19 lead early in the first half but the Spartans went on a 10-2 run, giving themselves a lead they wouldn't surrender for most of the game.
CLC had trouble dropping back on defense as the Spartans were beating them consistently down the court and shooting the ball while the Raiders were out of defensive position.
In the second half, the Raiders slowly chipped away at Fergus' lead. With just under 4 minutes to play, a Veith jumper gave CLC the lead for the first time since early in the game. CLC center Molly RoggenKamp followed with a 3-point play that gave the Raiders a 5-point lead with 3 1/2 minutes left.
Once they regained the lead, the Raiders held on to it for the rest of the game as free throws by Diedrich and Veith sealed the victory, and a playoff spot, for the Raiders.
"It feels great," Veith said. "We played really hard tonight. We're jelling together really well right now."
Eastman and the Raiders aren't just thankful to be playing in the state tournament, which will take place at CLC.
"We're going to play the No. 1 seed from the South Division," Eastman said. "Our biggest thing is that it's going to be here at home, on our court. We're not just happy to be here, we're going to try and play the spoiler. We're going to be the grinch."
FERGUS FALLS (67)
Naomi Moerke 8, Stacy Tenneson 13, Tracy Ward 11, Lisa Ripplinger 11, MerriAnn Werder 8, Rhonda Brekke 5, Laura Wiedewitsch 4, Carrie Wilkinson 7. Team totals: FG 21-68 (30 percent), FT 17-28 (60 percent). Conference -- 3-10. Overall -- 4-19.
CENTRAL LAKES (71)
Val Diedrich 24, Tara Storts 9, Melissa Sahlberg 6, Cassey Veith 12, Beth Frost 6, Molly RoggenKamp 11, Becca Nagel 3. Team totals: FG 25-55 (45 percent), FT 13-22 (59 percent). Conference -- 8-6. Overall -- 9-13. Next game: State tournament at CLC TBA.
3-point baskets -- CLC 3, FF 5. Total fouls -- CLC 22, FF 25. Fouled out -- CLC RoggenKamp. Halftime -- CLC 33, FF 38.
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