MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - Four seniors helped unseeded Win-E-Mac finish an improbable run to its first Class 1A state girls basketball championship.
The core of the team - sophomore Madison McKeever - had the biggest impact.
After a fourth-place finish last season, the Patriots were back at the state tournament and won three straight games to claim the title. It was their first appearance in a championship game in school history.
“Minneota was a really good team, they were rated number one,” McKeever said. “We knew we couldn’t just think of that because they were going to win this. We came out and played our best game tonight and our seniors really stepped up and that helped.”
Senior Shelby Kaster shot just 2 for 8 and finished with four points, but she added a team-high 12 rebounds that helped give chances to Ross and McKeever, who combined for 44 of the Patriots’ 61 points.
Up 47-32 with 12:21 left in the game, the Patriots (31-2) survived a late scare from the Vikings (32-2) as Minneota pulled within 52-50 with about three minutes to go.
“We told them to expect (a close game),” Patriots coach Ian Hanson said. “In the last two games we’ve had double-digit leads late in the game and the teams have fought back. We told (the players) that it was going to happen again.”
A pair of layups extended the Patriots' lead to 56-50 with over a minute left before McKeever, who finished with a game-high four steals, forced the Vikings’ 18th turnover of the game, got fouled, and sent the game out of reach after a pair of free throws with 55 seconds left.
“I’m really known for my steals. Up north I have the record for most steals in a game. It’s my game,” McKeever said. “A lot of people don’t think we’re that great up at north; hopefully we showed … there’s a lot of good teams and you can’t take us for granted.”
The Patriots will lose four seniors, including two starters, next season. But Hanson has the growth of McKeever to look forward to. McKeever scored a game-high 32 points in the Patriots' semifinal victory over Mankato Loyola after she set the state tournament record with 25 free-throw attempts.
McKeever led all scorers again Saturday, but not without key baskets from her teammates to rebound from an 11-4 deficit out of the gate.
A 3-pointer from the Patriots'Ross gave Win-E-Mac their first lead at 18-17 seven minutes before halftime, kicking off a Patriots’ 11-0 run to give them a nine-point lead over top-seeded Minneota before intermission.