The Fergus Falls eighth grade Lady Otters basketball team finished their season playing in the largest youth basketball tournament in the nation (Minnesota Youth Athletic Services) Feb. 25 and 26. Because of the high number of teams in the tournament, it was formatted that each coach from every team votes on bracket seeding. The Lady Otters traveled to Farmington High School looking to finish their season strong after having a busy winter season.
Fergus Falls 46, Waconia 16
The Otters jumped out to a fast start against the Wildcats with the overall offensive play of Elizabeth Klinnert and Lyla Burud who had multiple tough inside finishes. This helped open up the outside game where Carlee Hirst found Ella Black for a trey and a Otter half time lead 25 to 11.
In the second half the Otters looked to keep being aggressive on the offensive side of the court with Reece Kuehl and Hirst finding each other for scores. Defensively the Otters continued to make the Wildcats take difficult shots which was led by the defensive pressure of Ryanna Moen, Alexis Thoma and Ashley Pearson which allowed the Otters to advance with a 46-16 win. Lady Otters had three players finish in double figures. Kuehl led the way with 14, Hirst scored 11, and Klinnert scored 10.
The Otters woke up the next morning looking to continue their play like the previous night in the semifinal game against an athletic Rochester Lourdes team. The game was a back and forth game with each team having an answer for the other team's scores. The Otters came out aggressive with Hirst and Kuehl helping the Otters take an early 7 to 3 lead. The Eagles started their own run and pulled within one-point mid-way through the first half. The Otters continued to battle which was highlighted by Klinnert grabbing a defensive rebound and pushing the ball down the court and finding Kaia Ness in the corner who hit her shot and propelled the Otters to a 21 to 13 half time lead.
In the second half both teams made some halftime adjustments and the intensity went up as both teams kept working hard on the defensive side. The Otters continued to be patient offensively throughout the second half. Which was highlighted by some tough finishes from Presley Warren and Kuehl which helped the Otters grow their lead to as many as 11 points. But the Eagles made a run of their own and the Otters found themselves only up by 3 points with 4 minutes left in the game. Fergus looked to their defense and some timely offensive rebounding from Chloe Nelson and Black which helped propel the Otters to a hard fought 43 to 38 win. Leading the Otters in scoring was Kuehl 24 points and Hirst eight points.
Fergus Falls 54, Cloquet 29 – Championship Game
Lady Otters came into the Championship game determined to set the tone against a physically tough Lumberjack team. The game started with Kuehl and Hirst making some baskets for the Otters. Their teammate, Warren, followed that up with a three-pointer from a perfect goldilocks pass given by Pearson and an early 13 to 5 Otter lead. A tough running drive basket by Nelson, which the famous Bill Raftery would have announced on television “with a kiss,” off the backboard helped the Otters extend their lead 22 to 11 with about 6 minutes in first half. But the Lumberjacks fought back valiantly, reducing the Otter lead at halftime 28 to 23.
The entire game was a physical game with the second half intensity going up and the Lumberjacks cutting the Otters lead to four points with 12 minutes left in the game. But the Otters went back to relying on their defense which continued to work hard and looked to keep Cloquet off the boards throughout the second half which was anchored by Moen, Burud, Hirst, and Nelson. This allowed the Otter offense to start going again with Thoma hitting a jumper, Ness finding Hirst down low, Warren scoring on multiple drives, and Burud and Ella running the court and being rewarded for their efforts with baskets and helping the Otters to a 54 to 29 win and a MYAS Grade State Championship. Leading the Otters in scoring was Kuehl 17, Warren 13, and Hirst eight.
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