Ready for a rematch

Ranger girls prepare for Anoka following two playoff wins

 

Kat Ladwig
Sports Editor

The second-seeded Forest Lake girls basketball team took care of business in the first two rounds of Section 7AAAA play and sit one win away from the program’s first state appearance since 2001. The Rangers face top-seeded Anoka in the section final at 7 p.m. Friday in North Branch.

Forest Lake hosted seventh-seeded St. Francis last Thursday, and won handily, 69-36. Senior Anna Eckert led the charge with 16 points, followed by senior Bailey Norby with 14 points. Junior Hanna Vidlund recorded nine points and senior Emily Peters eight. Senior Miranda Rice and junior Abby Moeller added seven and six points, respectively.

Forest Lake moved on to face the third seed, Andover, on Monday night in North Branch. Last season, the Rangers knocked off the Huskies in the first round of postseason play. The Huskies defeated the Rangers by four points in Forest Lake’s regular-season opener this year.

This time, the Rangers pulled away in the second half for a 61-44 victory.

It was a rocky offensive start for both teams, with the first points scored three minutes in when Vidlund drove the lane and dished to a waiting Norby, who made a basket and was fouled to open the scoring with a three-point play.

It was another two minutes before another basket. Junior Sarah Jaeb finished a left-handed lay-in on a fast-break pass from Vidlund.

Andover got on the board six minutes into the game with a free throw by senior Kathryn Yoder. Senior Madison Hahn then gave the Huskies the lead with five straight points. Hahn drove on the right side for an easy layup, then two possessions later, hit a 3-pointer to make it 6-5 with 12 minutes left in the half.

The back-and-forth battle continued, but Norby converted another ‘and one’ play with a drive along the right baseline to put the Rangers ahead 25-19 with 46 seconds remaining before the break. Norby then drove the length of the floor to add an easy layup, making it a 27-19 game at halftime.

Head coach Jen Wagner said she was happy with her team’s performance in the first half.

“It was good. Obviously it was a battle in the first half—we played a little tentative, and you could sense that we were a little tight, but you expect that in a game like tonight’s,” Wagner said. “But I was overly impressed with our fight in the first half. I think it was our will to win and us battling that really got us the lead and the ability to maintain it.”

Still, Andover came out fighting following the break.

Hahn made a lay-up on the left side and a foul shot for a three-point play, then the guard hit a 3-pointer on the squad’s next possession to bring the Huskies within two points at 27-25.

Rice rallied the Rangers by hitting two free throws, then stripping what would have been a defensive rebound for Andover and converting another two points on the blocks to extend the lead to 31-25.

Norby extended the lead to 10 points with 13:19 to go, and it was Forest Lake’s game from there.

Wagner felt relieved following the semifinal win.

“It honestly right now feels so good to win,” Wagner said. “I was nervous tonight, not because I thought we couldn’t beat them, but because we have played Andover so many times and we’ve been four-five matchup, two-three matchup or one-four matchup in the past few years that, superstition-wise, eventually I thought this could be their time. But I was impressed with the way our girls got the win.”

Rice led the Ranger offense with 16 points, followed by Peters with 14. Norby scored 13 points, while Vidlund put up 10. Jaeb and Eckert each added four.

Norby said her squad was well prepared for the Huskies.

“Our coaches have their plays down to a ‘T’, so basically we scouted them very well so we had all of their plays down, from switching all the way from the guards to the post, so we just had to execute our plan,” she said.

Next up, Forest Lake faces a top-seeded Anoka team with an overall record of 21-7. The Tornadoes defeated Forest Lake 64-60 in overtime of the section finals last season. This year, Anoka beat the Rangers 63-47 at the Hopkins Holiday Tournament.

Wagner said the recent results are on her team’s minds, but her girls are ready for the rematch.

“They play a lot of zone,” Wagner said. “We have to make sure we attack the zone better, we have to get higher percentage shots, we have to make sure that we are confident and defend them in their attack. We have to focus on our gameplan.”

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