Vikings claw past Panthers to move on to semis

Published 3:29 pm Thursday, March 17, 2022

MINNEAPOLIS – The No. 5 seeded Hayfield girls basketball team had to adjust to a defense it wasn’t ready for, but figured things out just in time as it beat No. 4 Cass Lake-Bena 67-57 in a Minnesota Class A State Girls Basketball Tournament quarterfinal in Maturi Pavilion Thursday.

The Vikings led by double figures for much of the first half, but the Panthers (28-3 overall) switched from a man-to-man defense to a 1-2-2 zone press in the second half and put Hayfield on its heels for a long stretch. CLB took a 49-46 lead on a score by Taryn Frazer with 6:21 left, but Natalie Beaver responded with a game-tying three. The Panthers also led 51-49 and 53-52 in the closing minutes before the Vikings rallied.

“I think we got a little too comfortable at halftime,” said Hayfield senior Aine Stasko, who put up 13 points in the win. “They gave us a good fight and we were a little scared. It was kind of like the Grand Meadow game. We just had to stay composed. I just wanted to keep Kristen (Watson) calm, because she’s our anchor and if she goes crazy, it will fall apart for us.”

After going back and forth for a two-minute stretch, the Vikings took the lead for good when Watson hit a short jump shot in the paint with 3:23 left. Beaver gave Hayfield an edge when she scored on back-to-back possessions to put Hayfield up 58-53 with 2:08 left. She finished with 22 points and seven rebounds.

Watson scored off the opening tip of the game and that was a sign of things to come as she put up 17 of her 29 points in the first half alone. Watson went nine-for-nine from the charity stripe in the first half as she was aggressive with the ball in her hands from the start.

“It was a lot of fun and the crowd was wild, but I tried to keep my cool,” Watson said. “They’re a tough team and a physical team. I can’t usually attack against a zone, so that made it difficult. We didn’t know the traps were coming early in the first half, but when we knew it was coming, we fixed it.”

In a wild game that saw Hayfield have one player foul out, three reach four fouls and CLB have two players foul out and one leave the game with two technicals, the Vikings are able to do just enough to overcome and survive.

Hayfield (32-0 overall) held a comfortable 39-26 lead at halftime, but the Panthers scored six points in the first minute of the second half as they used a 10-0 spurt over three minutes to get within 39-36 before they eventually took the lead.

“We knew they had some absolute studs and we got them in foul trouble a little bit in the first half,” Hayfield head coach Kasey Krekling said. “In the second half, we had to get in the half court offense against their zone.” 

The Panthers pulled to within 15-12 when Frazer hit a three-pointer with 11 minutes left in the first half, but the Vikings responded with a 20-9 push over the next four minutes to create separation.

Hayfield will take on unseeded Minneota in the semifinals at Williams Arena at noon Friday. Minneota knocked off top-seeded Mountain Iron-Buhl in another quarterfinal matchup.

“Kasey’s a smart guy and he’s going to do everything he can to get us ready,” Stasko said. “We just have to stay ready and be physical. There’s nothing you can do, everyone up here is good.”

Hayfield scoring: Kristen Watson, 29; Natalie Beaver, 22; Aine Stasko, 13; Josanne Tempel, 2; Chelsea Christopherson, 1; free throws: 78 percent (25-for-32); turnovers: 25

CLB scoring: Gabrielle Fineday, 17; Taryn Frazer, 13; Amira LaDuke, 9; Alexia Larose, 8; Antavia Bowstring, 4; Mya Reyes, 4; Krisalyn Seelye, 2