March 18, 2017 10:53 PM
Elk River entered the state tournament undefeated, but perhaps a bit under-appreciated while being in the long shadow of Hopkins. Hopkins is Minnesota’s most dominant high school girls’ basketball program in the modern era, and they, too, entered the state tournament undefeated, along with a top ranking and a top seed in the Class AAAA field.
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Both advanced to the Class AAAA championship game to end the season. A victory by Hopkins would extend its dynasty to five state championships since 2011. An Elk River victory in the title game would be the first in program history and validation of a perfect season.
Elk River, ranked No. 2 behind Hopkins the majority of the season, finally slipped past the Royals following a dramatic 64-60 victory in the Class AAAA championship game at Williams Arena on the University of Minnesota campus.
In the four-class era, which began in 1997, there has never been a matchup of undefeated teams in the championship game. Elk River is the sixth undefeated Class AAAA champion in the four-class era.
Senior guard Gabi Haack scored 25 points and sophomore forward Sydney Wentland added 16 points, including two free throws in the final minute that gave the Elks (32-0) a 63-58 lead.
Hopkins, which averaged nearly 76 points per game this season, drew to within 63-60 on a layup by junior Raena Suggs with 21 seconds remaining in regulation. After a missed free throw on Elk River’s end, a desperation three-pointer by Hopkins freshman guard Paige Bueckers fell short of hitting the backboard or rim with four seconds left.
One free throw later by senior guard Danielle Lachmiller and the Elks began a joyous celebration. She ended up with 17 points.
Hopkins (31-1), which was led by Bueckers with 19 points, finished runner-up in Class AAAA for the second consecutive season. Sophomore guard Diayla Chakolis had 13 points and junior forward Angie Hammond had 12 points and 10 rebounds.
Elk River held a 35-30 lead after a frenetic-paced first half of play. Haack scored 16 points and was 2 of 2 from three-point range to fuel the Elks who trailed early, but sped past the Royals to lead by as many as nine. Wentland had 11 points in the opening half, including 3 of 3 from three-point range.
Hopkins was crisp and efficient early, scoring on seven of its first eight possessions in building a six-point lead. But the Royals slowed offensively for the remaining minutes of the first half in the face of Elk River’s pressure defense.
Hammond led the Royals in the first 18 minutes with nine points while Bueckers and Chakolis each had eight points.
(Courtesy: MSHSL staff)
Updated: March 18, 2017 10:53 PM
Created: March 18, 2017 10:48 PM
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