Maranatha 60, Owls 57
Making the state tournament means there's a good chance that in short order you'll come up against a school with religious terms in its title. Private schools are in the fray with the conventional town/public schools. In the latter category we have Hancock.
The Hancock girls basketball team has carried the banner for our county in a high-profile and distinguished way. One by one they mowed down opponents in the post-season. There was Ada-Borup (for the 6A title) and then Goodhue (top-ranked in state) in that succession.
Being in state means you might come up against foes with names like Rochester Lourdes or Christ's Household of Faith. Hancock did not play either of these schools in the state semis Friday, but they did play Maranatha Christian.
Some might say the private school can achieve advantages not easily available to their public school brethren. Yours truly will take no side publicly right here, right now.
I'm old enough to remember when private schools had their own state tournament with the "independent" label. This tournament was buried under the attention received by the "real" (for all practical purposes) state tournament. I imagine that private schools employed lobbyists to erase that dividing line.
It does strike me as odd that public schools are supposed to steer clear of any acknowledgment or endorsement of religion in their day-to-day affairs. And yet if a team makes state, you might play "Christ's Household of Faith" or "Maranatha Christian." Such is the way of the world.
Our Hancock Owls battled valiantly against the Mustangs of Maranatha Friday at Target Center, Minneapolis. Michael Rand of the Star Tribune called this "a game of attrition." It was a marathon requiring two overtimes. Teams were tested with key players fouling out.
Hancock had a chance to pull away at the end of regulation with freethrows. Alas, two freethrow attempts were off the mark with 21 seconds remaining. Maranatha had enough time to erase Hancock's two-point edge on the scoreboard.
Onye Osemenam made a layup for Maranatha that tied the score and set the stage for overtime. Osemenam, who finished the game with eleven points, ten rebounds and seven blocks, was clutch again in the second overtime by making a freethrow. This broke a tie.
From there, her teammate Josie Taggatz-Ott added distance on the scoreboard with two freethrows. Finally the battle of attrition was done and Maranatha was the 60-57 winner.
Maranatha could advance to the Saturday Class 'A' championship game.
The attrition story had Maranatha's top scorer, Alexis Long, get retired to the bench with fouls with 4:33 remaining in regulation. The Mustangs led by two at the time. Owl standout Illissa Koehl experienced the same fate in the first overtime.
It was a Koehl field goal that gave Hancock a very promising lead at 48-46. The Owls could have polished things off with better freethrow shooting. The Star-Tribune's Rand quoted Hancock coach Jodi Holleman saying: "If we make our freethrows, we're in the title game."
Maranatha is coached by Jim Hammond. He implored his team to "step it up" after "Lexi" Long fouled out. There were concerns among Maranatha fans that this might be an insurmountable handicap. Hammond challenged his student athletes, who, as it turned out, are made of the same stuff as the Owls.
Osemenam was a second half leader after a quiet first half.
Maranatha players were quoted saying their team's tough schedule, including the likes of Hopkins, Minneapolis South and DeLaSalle, was a factor in outlasting Hancock.
Consolation games are always a letdown and pose a supreme challenge of "psyching up" again, and the Owls arose this morning (Saturday) facing that challenge. I doubt there are any special pills that would help. Hancock's challenge this morning (Saturday) is to play Mountain Iron-Buhl at Concordia College of St. Paul. Maranatha is facing Nicollet at noon at Target Center for the 'A' title.
A footnote: Maranatha girls basketball had nine season losses going into today, but that's a misleading number. Only two losses were at the hands of Class 'A' opponents. In fact, five of the Mustangs' losses came against AAAA schools.
The Owls did quite fine shooting three-pointers Friday. Shae Brown and Aria Walstad were both one-for-one in that category. Kendra Schmidgall was one-for-two and Illissa Koehl one-for-three.
Here's the individual scoring list: Kendra Schmidgall 15, Courtney Greiner 16, Illissa Koehl 18, Shae Brown 3, Aria Walstad 3, Olivia Koehl 0 and Abby Ascheman 2.
Greiner was team-best in rebounds with 13 followed by Schmidgall with eight and Illissa Koehl with seven. Greiner and Schmidgall each dished out three assists. Illissa Koehl and Walstad each had a steal, and Schmidgall blocked two shots.
The Owls made 19 of 56 field goal attempts. The freethrow stats were 15 of 25.
Maranatha led 30-21 at halftime. The first overtime had a 7-7 deadlock.
The Owls enter today's third place game with a 27-3 season record. Most certainly there will be a jubilant welcome home for the squad.
Hats off to the maroon-clad standouts with the avian nickname. The memories are etched permanently. Now it's time for some quality rest, for the fans too (and the pep band director, "Kenny G," Ken Grunig).
Click on the link below to see coverage of the Owls-Maranatha game on the "Girls Basketball Hub" website.
-Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - firstname.lastname@example.org