Otters girls head back to statePublished 11:12am Sunday, March 10, 2013 Updated 11:56am Monday, March 11, 2013
Remember last year when people wondered if you could beat the same team three times in a year and we said, “sure you can”, then did it to go to state?
Well, the Fergus Falls girls basketball team is going back to the AAA girls state tournament for the second year in a row, after defeating the Alexandria Cardinals for the third time again this year, in a 55-54 nail biter at St. John’s University Friday night.
For a while it looked like the St. John’s jinx was going to kick in, as many Otter fans remember two years ago when the Otters struggled at the free throw line and were upset by Alexandria. This time, the Otters missed their last three free throws and Alexandria got possession of the ball with 5.7 seconds left on the clock and dribbled down for the winning basket, but never got a shot off. That left the Otters with a one point victory and another trip to the state tournament.
The victory meant the Otters will keep their record setting season going, making it 29 straight games without a loss, and they will be the only undefeated team in the AAA tournament. Tournament seeding will take place this weekend and the Otters will find out what seed they have and what time they will play on Wednesday at Williams Arena on the campus of the University of Minnesota.
Credit goes to Alexandria for improving from an early season 30-point loss to the Otters to making this game in doubt to the final second. The game started out back and forth for the first seven minutes and at the 10:58 mark Alexandria held their last lead in the game at 8-7. The Otters then went on a 9-0 run over the next four minutes and pulled out to a 16-8 lead. Fergus Falls extended their lead to 26-14, their largest lead of the game, but with Brianna Rasmusson and Bailey Strand each having two fouls in the first half and having to play cautiously Alexandria made a comeback to make the game 28-22 with seven seconds left in the first half. Then Rasmusson took the out-of-bounds pass and dribbled down to the 3-point line, ducked under the defender and drained a trey just before the buzzer went off. In what ended as a one point game, boy did that turn out to be a big shot! That put the Otters in the locker room with a nine point lead. Rasmusson led the Otters in the first half with 14 points. Amanda Christenson had 12 for the Cardinals to lead their first half effort.
At the beginning of the second half, Alexandria pulled right back into the game, cutting the nine point lead to four. With just under 10 minutes left in the second half, Rasmusson picked up her fourth foul on a dubious charge call and the coaching staff had an earnest discussion about whether she should remain in the game. But Coach Strand played the part of the riverboat gambler and made the decision to ride it out with Rasmusson in the game. She did have to change her game not to press so much and didn’t drive to the basket again for fear of a charging foul, but Rasmusson still commanded the floor for the Otters and helped the Otters maintain a slim three point lead throughout much of the half. With 7:44 left in the second half Alexandria scored and it was 43-42 Otters and the Otter fans were checking their heart rate and looking for their aspirin tablets. But the Fergus Falls girls wouldn’t relinquish the lead and with defense being their mainstay the Otters made one more defensive stop in the final seconds to hold on for the one point victory and another trip to state.
Anna Monke scored six of her game’s nine points under the basket in the second half and Bailey Strand hit a three pointer, a couple of pull-ups and four free throws to score 11 points and lead the Otters in the second half.
“All I can say is it was a relief when that final buzzer went off and we were still a point ahead,” commented Otter coach Brad Strand. “They say it’s difficult to beat a team three times in one year and it proved as difficult as they say, but we got the job done. I thought we held our poise in playing through adversity with foul problems. When Bri got her fourth foul with 10 minutes left, we had a decision to make, and that’s when you coach with your heart and your instincts more than your brain. I asked her mother and assistant coach Renae Rasmusson if we should leave her in and we both decided we had a lot of trust in her to stay away from the last foul. We didn’t go into a shell like a turtle when things got tough and I really liked the leadership from kids in the huddle and on the floor, they didn’t get nervous, they just said let’s go do it. It was great to see so many Otter fans, the girls appreciate it greatly, and it makes such a big difference. I thought we won the battle of the bands and had the best ‘sixth man’ with the crowd. We anxiously await our opportunity to play in the state and find out how the seeding will go and when we’ll play. We are excited!”
The Otter girls have now achieved a new distinction of being the only Fergus Falls girls team to make consecutive trips to the state basketball tournament. They also have extended their record-setting win streak to 29 games this season and are looking to keep that going at state.
There will be “back to back State” t-shirts available by Monday afternoon at the Kennedy School and we anticipate tournament tickets will also be available for sale. More information will come out about that in the next day or two.
FERGUS FALLS (55) – B. Rasmusson 19, B. Strand 18, A. Monke 9, H. Swenson 7, K. Traiser 2.
ALEXANDRIA (54) – A. Christianson 19, K. Bowser 11, K. Betterman 10, S. Bruzek 8, D. Strater 2, J. Syvrud 2, E. Thul 2.