ST. PETER - March Madness is typically known as the season in which anything can happen.
On Friday, that statement rang true once again as the Sleepy Eye girls basketball team defied all odds and advanced to its first ever state tournament with a 53-48 win over Tomahawk Conference rival Springfield in the Section 2A championship at Gustavus Adolphus College.
The Indians (19-10) will play the Section 7A champions, Mountain Iron-Buhl, at 11 a.m. Thursday at Williams Arena.
Staff photo by Steve Muscatello
Sleepy Eye’s Sydney Remus (12) and Claire Krumbach celebrate after defeating Springfield in the Section 2A Championship game Friday at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter.
For more photos of this event go to cu.nujournal.com
Sleepy Eye entered the North Subsection playoffs as the No. 7 seed and defeated No. 2 seed Minnesota Valley Lutheran, No. 3 seed New Ulm Cathedral and No. 1 seed Buffalo Lake-Hector-Stewart on the way to the Section 2A title game.
There, they pushed aside the No. 2 seed from the South Subsection in Springfield. By now, the Indians are used to the underdog role, and it doesn't seem to bother them one bit.
Facing a team that they've already played twice this season, the Indians knew what to expect. It just came down to executing the game plan.
"It helps our defense a lot," Sleepy Eye senior Jessica Busch said. "We can try to get the steal and we know how to defend it."
Busch led the Indians with 18 points. It was fitting that she led the way, as she was the one who had a big steal late in the game against MVL in the first round and hit the game-winning basket that started this madness.
On Friday, she frequently got in the way of the Tigers passes, hitting big free throws and baskets when her team needed them the most.
"I've actually been feeling really slow lately, because I sprained my ankle a while back, but it's just the atmosphere, I think I had some adrenaline going and it helps make you that much of a better basketball player all around," she said.
The teams battled to a close first half. Sleepy Eye held off a rally by the Tigers in the latter part of the half after grabbing leads of 15-8 and 23-19. The Indians went into halftime with a 25-24 lead.
"It was very important, because they're such a great team that if they do pull a lead they can keep that lead," Sleepy Eye senior Sydney Remus said of stopping the run by the Tigers. "We just had to gain that lead back right away."
The Tigers also knew what they wanted to do, but some struggles on offense made it difficult to stay in front.
"I think that we knew what there were gonna do and they just came out and executed better," Springfield coach Paul Arnoldi said. "We had better shots, but it was just one of those nights. You gotta hand it to Sleepy Eye, they played very well and did a lot of good things and for us it was just a struggle on offense. The effort was there, we just played a little tight on offense and just didn't make shots."
The Indians raced to a 38-31 lead to begin the second half. The Tigers responded and actually grabbed a 41-40 lead on a pair of Jordan Salonek free throws with 3:22 left in the game.
Just when it seemed like the Tigers were going to extend their lead, the Indians had other plans.
"It's like they had an answer every time, we had to keep battling and we just couldn't seem to get over the hump and get on any type of a roll or rhythm," Arnoldi said.
The Indians re-took the lead thanks to the help of six straight free throws to go up 46-41. A basket by Justine Gonzalez late made it 48-43 and the Indians hit free throws the rest of the way for the win.
Gonzalez had 10 points for the Indians and Remus finished with eight points.
Salonek finished with 12 points and Carli Arnoldi and Morgan Hansen each scored 10 for the Tigers, who finish the season at 18-8.
"It feels great," Remus said. "[Coach Ryan] Hulke told us that we're the first team to go to state in [school] history, I love it."