Knights fall short against BBE
MINNEAPOLIS — Sleepy Eye St. Mary’s came up a basket shy of continuing its perfect season on Tuesday at the Target Center.
Top-seeded Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa held off the Knights late with a 51-50 victory in a Class A state girls’ basketball semifinals game.
The Knights end their season with a 23-1 record.
Madison Mathiowetz led the Knights with 23 points, seven rebounds and three assists, while Reagan Severson had 10 points, six rebounds and two assists. Sydney Windschitl also had 10 points, five rebounds, three steals and two blocks for the Knights, while Liz Schwint pulled in 15 rebounds and had two blocks.
BBE was led by Allisa Knight’s 15 points and 10 rebounds, while Josie Knutson had 13 points and five rebounds and Abby Berge had 7 points and 10 rebounds.
The Knights trailed 47-42 with less than two minutes to play before a steal by Windschitl at halfcourt led to an and-one by Severson and a 47-45 score. After BBE made the front end of two free throws to lead 48-45, Mathiowetz grabbed the rebound off the missed second free throw and got it to Windschitl for a fast-break layup, bringing the Knights to within a point with 25.6 seconds left.
The Jaguars got another three free throws late by Knutson to lead 51-47 with 9.6 seconds left. Mathiowetz was then able to hit a 3 with seconds left, but time ran out on the Knights and the Jaguars moved on to the state finals. BBE will now take on Minneota on Friday for the Class A state title at the Target Center.
Free throws played a big role in the Jaguars’ win as they hit 16 of 26 at the foul line. The Knights made 8 of 10 at the line.
“We had some turnovers a little bit in that second half, and it was just tough,” Knights head coach Bruce Woitas said. “We missed some opportunities by not getting a rebound here or there or a shot here or there, but they [BBE] did the same thing. I think we were down 5 maybe and really had to battle to get ourselves back into it, missed some shots, opportunities to tie it with a few minutes to go … and then they [BBE] made their free throws down the stretch. Biggest part, probably, is they went to the foul line for  free-throw attempts and we went 10. A lot of those were obviously late in the game when we were forced to foul, but it was just a great defensive battle by two teams.”
In the first half, BBE was only able to build a slim 6-2 lead early on before the Knights took a 10-8 lead after a 3 and a free throw by Severson. The Knights’ largest lead of the half, 13-10, came after a rebound and fast-break layup by Windschitl.
With less than four minutes to go in the opening half, the Jaguars went on a 7-0 run to take their largest lead of the half, 23-17. Knight had a pair of buckets during the run, while Harley Roering knocked down a 3.
St. Mary’s cut its deficit to 1 after and and-one by Mathiowetz before ending the half trailing 24-22.
Mathiowetz started the second half with three consecutive buckets to give the Knights a 28-24 lead, their largest lead of the game.
The Knights graduate seven seniors from this year’s squad after having no seniors on the team a year ago.
“I told them after that this is the hardest part of being a coach is that you’ve got to say goodbye to some kids that have meant a lot to your program,” Woitas said. “Obviously, we didn’t have that the year before, we knew we had everybody coming back, and they responded. Our seniors this year did a great job with their leadership, accepting the roles they were given. I know some of our seniors didn’t play a lot of minutes in the playoffs here, but they still worked their tails off in practice to make us a better team as we prepared for these playoff games. It’s just a great credit to our seniors and the leadership that they have given.
“Obviously, we do have some talent coming back, but you’ve got to work hard,” Woitas added. “Just because you’ve got people coming back with talent — we have some holes to fill, and you’re not guaranteed that you’re going to get back to this spot. These opportunities don’t come around that often. The last two years with this group has been a blessing, and I think we were 48-4 over the last two years, so just a great group of young ladies to work with. Very proud of them.”