Hollywood could not have written a better script.
The Central Lakes College women's basketball team dealt with the adversity of losing 12 of its first 14 games and learning new offensive and defensive philosophies that come with a mid-season coaching change. Despite this adversity, the Raiders rallied together culminating in Saturday's Region 13B finals appearance against Northland at Central Lakes.
The last time the two teams met, the Pioneers defeated the Raiders by 26 points.
Cinderella had her night, however, as the Raiders pulled off a stunning 60-58 upset to gain a berth in the NJCAA national tournament.
Trailing 27-20 at halftime, the Raiders rode the hot hand of freshman Brittany Miller, who scored all 13 of her points in the second half.
Raider's Stacey Butler (20), Brandi Cresap (10), Becky Skiba (55), Megan Hejhal (33) and Erika Saima (45) celebrated their Region 13B championship over Northland Community College Saturday at Central Lakes College. Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls
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"At halftime I said we have to shoot better", Raiders head coach Dennis Eastman said. "We spend too much time in practice to come into a game and shoot 18 percent in a half. And the other thing was we have to watch our fouls. Fouls have always been the demon of us. Luckily we were able to not have it hurt us too badly (Saturday)."
Miller was clutch throughout the second half. After a 10-0 Northland run turned a six-point Raider lead into a four-point deficit with under two minutes to go, Miller drained a three. The Pioneer's answered with a basket before Miller tied the score with a 25-foot bank in with 35 seconds left.
"The only play I drew up for her was the last one," Eastman said of Miller's shooting, "I said if you have the shot, take it. She had it and she took it."
Raiders 60, Northland 58
Key: Brittany Miller scored 13 second-half points help Raiders to nationals
Next: NJCAA Division III national tournament March 13-15 at Utica, New York
After a Northland miss, Becky Skiba, who scored 14 points, pulled down the rebound and was fouled with 10 seconds remaining. She nailed both free throws to give CLC a two-point edge. The Pioneers were unable to inbound the ball and were called for a five-second violation.
CLC's bench ran on to the court in celebration resulting in a technical foul.
Northland couldn't capitalize as it made just one of two foul shots.
Because of Northland's previous time violation, CLC got the ball and inbounded it to Brandi Cresap who was fouled. After the free throws, the horn sounded, the home crowd and players converged on the court and celebrated the win.
"We really wanted to win this game and go (to the national tournament) really bad," said Miller. " It just came to me a few times and I was able to get a few shots off. I can't really explain it. I was just really excited and happy I was able to make the shots that I took. We have come a long way from the beginning of the season. Its just really unbelievable."
CLC was forced to play without leading scorer, Skiba, for most of the second half as she picked up her third foul with 13 minutes left. She picked up her fourth with seven minutes remaining.
"I told the team when Becky got her third foul I need you guys for three minutes. Give me everything you have for three minutes, and that three minutes turned into five minutes," said Eastman. "Basically those minutes won the game for us. Those subs and the way they played really won us the game."
Raiders Brandi Cresap (left), and Whitney Glazier (11) celebrated their 60-58 Region 13B championship win over Northland Community College Saturday at Central Lakes College. Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls
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Central Lakes now prepares to head to Utica, New York March 13-15 to participate in the national tournament.
"It's exciting," Eastman said of the impending trip. "The only bad thing about it is we have a week and a half off. We are going to take a little time off and then get back to work and stay in shape and stay sharp."
Central Lakes 20 40 - 60
Northland 27 31 - 58
Brandi Cresap 8, Whitney Glazier 5, Cayla Collison 3, Stacey Butler 5, Brittany Miller 13, Jayme Reed 8, Megan Hejhal 4, Becky Skiba 14. Team totals: FG 16-54 (30 percent), FT 24-31 (77 percent), 3-point baskets: 4 (Miller 3, Skiba 1). Overall: 10-20. Next: Central Lakes in NJCAA Division III national tournament March 13-15 in Utica, NY.
Sarah Passa 1, Sara Rindahl 4, Tresta Rolston 11, Alexandria Engleman 2, Brooke Conely 13, Stephanie Klamar 3, Casey Engelstad 16, Shawna Rogalla 8. Team totals: FG 21-64 (33 percent), FT 11-19 (58 percent), 3-point baskets: 5 (Ralston 3, Conely 2). Overall: 19-11.
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