Late first half push leads Hayfield to its third straight Section 1A title game

Published 9:52 pm Saturday, March 2, 2024

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ROCHESTER – Hayfield seniors Kristen Watson and Natalie Beaver have scored over 4,000th combined points and they’ve played in two state tournaments, so they weren’t about to panic when things started slow against No. 3 Rushford-Peterson in a Section 1A semifinal in Mayo Civic Center Auditorium Friday night.

Instead, Watson and Beaver picked up their game and led No. 2 Hayfield to an 85-58 win over the Trojans (21-8 overall) and put Hayfield in the section title game for the third straight season.

Hayfield (28-2 overall) led just 21-20 late in the first half and that’s when the Vikings put together a 17-0 run to take control. Beaver hit two three-pointers and she converted a three-point play during the rally and Watson knocked down back-to-back threes that put Hayfield up 32-30 with 2:55 left.

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“A lot of the girls were nervous for this game, and we just had to keep them calm,” said Watson, who piled up 20 points, four rebounds, two assists and two steals in her final game in the Auditorium. “It’s a lot of fun here. We’ve been playing in this gym since our eighth grade year and we’ve grown a lot mentally and physically.”

Beaver added 14 points, six rebounds and four assists and she was set up by the inside play of Lilly Beyer, who posted 15 points and seven rebounds.

“It’s really nice to have Lilly inside and I know she’s put in a ton of work,” Beaver said. “It’s been great playing with so many different teammates and against so many different teams here. It’s pushed me to be my best. It’s been really special and we hope we can keep it going for four more games.”

RP led 10-7 early on and they hung around for much of the first half as Hayfield senior Chelsea Christopherson, who finished with 11 points, was saddled with early foul trouble. Hayfield head coach Kasey Krekling had to use his bench and he was happy with what they gave him.
“We started slow, but Molly Hansen and Lilly Beyer gave us great minutes off the bench,” Krekling said. “Molly didn’t fill up the box score, but she played really solid. They only have one defender with size and Natalie drew her, so Lilly had a bit of a mismatch. She had a double-double against them in the regular season and she had another good game tonight.”

Hayfield, which has now won 12 games in a row, will now take on top-seeded Goodhue in the Section 1A championship in Mayo Civic Center Arena at 6 p.m. Thursday. Goodhue (24-5 overall) is coming off a 73-49 win over Spring Grove.

“We’re excited,” Watson said. “We’re going to leave it all on the court. We know their weaknesses and their strengths. We’re just going to go at them.”

Rushford-Peterson 25  23  –  58

Hayfield 38  47  –  85

Hayfield scoring: Kristen Watson, 20; Lilly Beyer, 15; Natalie Beaver, 14; Chelsea Christohperson, 11; Emily Hansen, 8; Molly Hansen, 5; Betsy Gillette, 4; Carly Nelson, 2; Kenna Rutledge, 2; Carmen Molina, 1; Aviana Alexander, 1