FL peaking as postseason tips off

Girls open sections Thursday riding four-game streak

Clint Riese
Sports Editor

The Ranger girls’ basketball team is on a roll heading into a section tournament which seems to be there for the taking.

Forest Lake beat Stillwater and Hastings last week to finish the regular season with a mark of 15-11. The team is seeded third as it opens the Section 7AAAA playoffs tonight, March 1, against the sixth seed from Blaine.

Considering the second seed went to Cambridge-Isanti, who Forest Lake beat in December, the Rangers have to be considered serious contenders for their first section title since 2001. Duluth East, the top seed, beat the Rangers by just nine in a January meeting up north.

Most importantly, though, Forest Lake is playing its best basketball of the season. Its current four-game winning streak is the team’s longest since January of 2010.

“It is nice momentum for us and some good confidence for the kids to feel the way they’re playing right now,” said coach Jen Wagner. “We hope to have that feeling carry into the playoffs…They’re just playing really well right now.”

Forest Lake closed the regular season with a 74-36 rout, more than doubling up their hosts in Hastings on Friday. The Raiders came out and made a couple three-pointers on their Senior Night, but the Rangers threw on a press and pulled ahead by 20 at halftime.

“We knew they were going to bring a lot of intensity,” Wagner said. “We just needed to make sure we didn’t come out and take them lightly.”

The Rangers played a clean, balanced game, going 19-25 from the foul line and keeping the turnover total in the single digits. Senior Sam Anderson scored a season-high 18 points. Fellow post players Bailey Norby and KP Palo scored 14 and 10 points, respectively, while guard Emily Peters had 10 as well.

Hastings scored just 11 second-half points and fell to 2-24 on the season.

Forest Lake earned a tougher road win in Stillwater last Tuesday. It was a tight contest throughout, but the Rangers pulled away in the last five minutes and won 64-59. Norby went for 26 points after scoring 30 in the teams’ first meeting. The sophomore stands just 24 points shy of 1,000 for her career.

The Ponies dropped six of their final seven games to finish the regular season at 10-15 overall and 7-11 in the Suburban East Conference. Forest Lake went 10-8 in the SEC to finish in fifth place. Eighth-ranked Roseville and No. 7 White Bear Lake tied for the league title at 16-2.

Section Outlook

Blaine comes into Thursday’s section quarterfinal with a record of 6-20. The Bengals knocked the Rangers out in the first round last winter, but graduated most of their rotation. They are also in the first year of a new system under coach Michael Engelhaupt.

Wagner called Blaine a streaky team which likes to spread the offense, penetrate and kick out for three-pointers.

With a win, Forest Lake would either play at Cambridge-Isanti (18-8) or host seventh-seeded St. Francis (10-16) next Tuesday. Forest Lake’s 60-49 win over the Bluejackets came at home. Cambridge-Isanti has won 12 of its last 14 games, including a 74-66 win at No. 6 Buffalo last Friday.

The Section 7AAAA final will be held in North Branch next Friday. Duluth East has a first-round bye. The other game on that side of the bracket pits fourth-seeded Andover (11-15) against fifth-seeded Anoka (9-17), the defending section champs.