No easy way out: Vikings survive multiple setbacks to prevail in OT

Published 5:33 pm Thursday, March 16, 2023

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MINNEAPOLIS – The Vikings girls basketball team survived against all odds to beat Badger Greenbush/Middle River 63-58 in overtime in a Class A quarterfinal game of the Minnesota Girls State Basketball Tournament at Maturi Pavilion in Minneapolis Thursday.

Hayfield was without two key starters for long stretches, committed over 30 turnovers and an eighth-grader who just got her varsity jersey halfway through the season was being asked to make big plays, but the Vikings found a way to prevail on the biggest stage of girls basketball in Minnesota.

The Gators (26-4 overall) took a 58-57 lead when Cassidy Dahl connected on a three-pointer, but Hayfield eighth-grader Jenna Christopherson connected on the biggest shot of the season when she drilled a wing three to put her team up 60-58 with 2:23 left.

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“I knew we could do this and it was a team effort. As a middle schooler, people don’t usually get this opportunity and I’m just lucky to be able to help out,” Christopherson said. “My sister Chelsea has helped me so much this season.”

Hayfield head coach Kasey Krekling had no choice but to play his middle schooler in clutch minutes, but he did have faith in her delivering.

“There were practices this year where she looked unstoppable and I said we’ve got to start playing her more,” Krekling said. “Then there’s times that she looks like an eighth-grader, but the girl can sure shoot the ball.”

Hayfield missed two straight free throws on the front of ends of one-and-ones, but junior Natalie Beaver finally iced the game when she blocked a shot with 40 seconds left and hit three of four free throws to clinch the win. Beaver played nearly 40 minutes and tallied 31 points, 15 rebounds, three assists, three steals and two blocks, while shooting 11-for-17 from the field.

Beaver was exhausted after the milestone performance.

“I’m dead. I came down with a cold a little earlier in the week and I knew I was going to have to push through that,” Beaver said. “I gave it my all out there.”

Hayfield’s point guard Kristen Watson was hit with her fourth foul when the Vikings were leading 33-30 with 14 minutes left in the game and senior JoJo Tempel fouled out with Hayfield trailing 48-43 with 6:38 left, but the Vikings got back in the game when Beaver hit a three-pointer to bring Hayfield within 48-46 with 4:57 left. Beaver also tied the game at 55 and forced overtime when she scored with 20 seconds left in regulation.

The Gators had led 48-40 with 6:53 left in the game when Jenna Christopherson hit her first of three big three-pointers off the bench to tighten the gap to 48-43.

Hayfield struggled with turnovers throughout the first half and the Gators led by as many as 21-17 in the first frame. Hayfield was able to score the last four points on a pair of put-backs by Natalie Beaver to take a 29-25 lead into the break.

Beaver’s role expanded vastly with Waston and Tempel out of the game.

“I had to help bring up the ball. I’m not always used to that,” Beaver said. “This was definitely one of the toughest games we’ve played and it helped that we had some tests earlier this season to help us prepare for this game.”

Hayfield (29-3 overall) had 35 turnovers in the win against a bigger, pressing Gator team.

“It didn’t help that our point guard who handles the ball 80 percent of the time was out with fouls, but they were good,” Krekling said. “We knew they were going to be tough and they forced some turnovers to get some easy lay-ups.”

No. 2 Hayfield will now play either United Christian Academy or No. 3 BOLD in the semifinals in Williams Arena at 2 p.m. Friday. Last year, the Vikings lost in the Class A semifinals and finished in fourth place overall.

Hayfield scoring: Natalie Beaver, 31; Kristen Watson, 10; Jenna Christopherson, 9; Chelsea Christopherson, 7; Emily Hansen, 4; free throws: JoJo Tempel, 2; field goals: 53 percent (24-for-45); three-pointers: 38 percent (7-for-18); free throws: 52 percent (8-for-14); rebounds: 35; turnovers: 35

BGMR scoring: Kinsely Hanson, 16; Tessany Blazek, 10; Jade Reese, 9; Kenzie Dahl, 9; Hannah Bergsnev, 9; Cassidy Dahl, 5;  field goals: 32 percent (20-for-63); three-pointers: 17 percent (1-for-6); free throws: 74 percent (17-for-23); rebounds: 22; turnovers: 19