Girls pull away, beat Blaine by 15 in section opener
The Ranger girls’ basketball team turned the tables on Blaine last Thursday, avenging a 2011 playoff loss by eliminating the Bengals from the Section 7AAAA tournament, 47-32.
Forest Lake (16-11), the third seed, advanced to this Tuesday’s section semifinal at No. 2-seed Cambridge-Isanti (19-8). (See www.forestlaketimes.com for coverage.)
In their first home playoff game in three years, Forest Lake was lulled into a slow-paced first half by a Blaine squad that was patient on offense and committed to double-teaming the post on defense. The Rangers led 14-13 at halftime, as the Bengals committed just one first-half foul.
“The first game sometimes is the most difficult one. You have an extra day or two off from the normal routine and there’s a little more pressure,” said coach Jen Wagner, who added that the snow day on that Monday did not help.
The visitors scored the first five points of the second half before Forest Lake used an 11-0 run to take the lead for good. Bailey Norby opened the spurt with a driving layup. Anna Eckert stole the ball on Blaine’s ensuing possession, drove upcourt and executed a perfect give-and-go with Norby for a layup that tied the game at 20. Emily Peters sandwiched two outside shots around an inside score by Norby to finish the run.
The game remained close until the final minutes, though. Senior guard Alysha Heath pulled Blaine within a point at 31-30 on a drive with 5:45 to go. The senior captain led the Bengals (6-21) with 11 points.
Peters responded with a three-pointer, the last of her 15 points, and tough defense allowed Forest Lake to pull away despite missing some free throws down the stretch.
Norby hit four free throws in the final minute and finished with a game-high 17 points. That output left the sophomore seven shy of 1,000 for her career.
“I just thought our kids played solid defense,” Wagner said. “We played a little tight on offense, but that’s to be expected considering the day off and that it was the first round of the tournament.”
Tuesday’s semifinal against the Bluejackets presented an interesting matchup. The Rangers topped Cambridge-Isanti 60-49 in a December game in Forest Lake.
Bluejacket senior standout Whitney Olson, a Wayne State commit, was cold from the floor that game. She scored 31 points last Thursday in leading Cambridge-Isanti to a 70-64 win over sixth-seeded St. Francis. Overall, the Bluejackets have won seven straight games, including a 74-66 upset of No. 6 Buffalo.
Tuesday’s winner will play in the section title game at 7 p.m. this Saturday in North Branch against either top-seeded Duluth East or fourth-seeded Andover.
Wagner reported successful ends of the season for both the JV and ninth-grade teams. The ninth-graders won the Suburban East Conference tournament and also won the regular season title outright. The JV squad posted the league’s best record at 22-2.