Central Lakes is the team that keeps on defying expectations.
Most didn't expect them to do anything after a 2-12 start. They did, going 6-6 in the MCCC Northern Division and capturing a state tournament berth.
Most didn't expect that berth and most probably didn't expect them to get past anybody in the tough MCCC Southern Division at the tournament. They did that as well, defeating Ridgewater (20-4) 73-66 Friday and earning the right to host a Region 13 championship game.
Head coach Dennis Eastman said it has already been a successful season for Central Lakes as it prepares to face Northland, ranked No. 8 in the NJCAA Division III national poll, Saturday.
"Coming into this weekend with Northland we got one shot," he said. "We got one chance and if we do it right we're going to New York. If we don't, it's the end of our season.
"I would view this season as a success no matter what happens Saturday. (The girls) will be ready to play. Whatever happens, happens."
After their first-round win, the Raiders dropped their final two games at the state tournament, one to Anoka-Ramsey 65-42 Saturday and the other to Ridgewater 83-49 Sunday.
Region 13B championship
Site: Central Lakes College, Brainerd
Schedule: Central Lakes vs. Northland, 5 p.m. Saturday
Overall: CL 9-20, N 19-10
Next: Winner advances to NJCAA Division III national tournament at Utica, New York, March 13-15
Despite the lopsided scores, Eastman said his team played well the entire weekend.
"We played really well Friday night," he said. "I haven't seen that team all year. They played like there was no tomorrow. People were coming up afterwards saying 'Wow'. I think some people were stunned. Saturday we played with (A-R). With 10 minutes left we were down by four points. We were also down by only four at half against Ridgewater. Fatigue just got us. I forgot how tough three-day tournaments were."
Freshman Jayme Reed said no one on the team could have envisioned having a shot at nationals on the home floor in March a couple of months ago.
"We feel good," she said. "We're playing for regions with a shot at nationals. No one could have envisioned this a couple of months ago. We'll have to turn up the intensity and pace of our game to stay with them Saturday."
TY RUSHMEYER may be reached at email@example.com or at 855-5865.
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