Girls basketball: An unhappy end for the Tiger seasonAll season long Farmington took advantage of its size and athleticism to produce high-percentage inside shots and dominate on the offensive glass. The Tigers used that formula to pile up a school-record 23 wins against three losses, win a share of the program’s first-ever Missota Conference championship and advance as the No. 1 seed all the way to the Section 1AAAA championship.
By: Matt Steichen, The Farmington Independent
All season long Farmington took advantage of its size and athleticism to produce high-percentage inside shots and dominate on the offensive glass.
The Tigers used that formula to pile up a school-record 23 wins against three losses, win a share of the program’s first-ever Missota Conference championship and advance as the No. 1 seed all the way to the Section 1AAAA championship.
But with a trip to the Class 4A State Tournament on the line Friday night, it was Rochester Mayo that owned the paint. The Spartans’ three six-foot post players — Anna Herssig, Rachael Doll and Lauren Ulsh — scored a combined 37 points, led a 30-24 rebounding advantage and held Farmington’s senior post tandem of Jordan Bridges and Elena Koch to two total points. Herssig scored inside baskets on the first two trips down the floor and the Spartans never trailed while rolling to their ninth state tournament and first since 2006 with a 49-35 victory at the Rochester Recreation Center.
“We just did not play well. Through a 27-game schedule this is really only the second game when we just did not perform well,” Farmington coach Jason Berg said. “Mayo was much more physical this time in the post. They did a good job of contesting and blocking shots in the paint. We needed to do a better job of attacking them and getting to the foul line. We also did not do a good job of rebounding. We knew going in we would have to limit second shots by them. Unfortunately, when we forced them to miss they ended up with a second possession on a offensive rebound.”
Mayo’s physical play led to Farmington shooting a season-low 24 percent from the field. The Tigers missed 16 of their first 18 shots and trailed 14-5 with eight minutes left in the first half.
“We turned it over a couple times early and got some shots blocked early and we did lose our aggressiveness,” Berg said. “We did not have the poise we needed to on offense. Once we started to miss shots we quit looking to take the shots our kids have been making all year.”
The Tigers came up with their only real run of the game late in the first half. Senior Jamie Kenealy scored two straight baskets, Taylor Meyer turned an offensive rebound into a layup and Shelby Calhoun drilled a three from the wing to make it 17-17 with 2:10 remaining in the first half.
A defensive stop could have been the momentum change the Tigers needed after their slow start. Instead, the Spartans scored two straight baskets and got a defensive stop of their own before Katrina Ruedinger swished a buzzer-beating 18-footer to make it 23-17 at the break.
“It seemed like we started to regain our composure — started to get to the free-throw line — and then they made three straight shots,” Berg said. “The one at the buzzer really seemed to deflate our kids.”
The Tigers air-balled their first two shots of the second half, while the Spartans reeled off three straight baskets to push their advantage to 29-17. The closest the score got after that was 31-25 after a pair of Isis Alexander free throws with 11:55 remaining.
The Spartans answered once again, this time with another offensive rebound putback and four more free throws to make it 37-25 with nine minutes left.
The Spartans, winners of 10 straight, shot 50 percent from the field (18 of 36), but missed many chances to pull away by shooting just 12 of 35 from the free-throw line. They were in the bonus over the final eight-plus minutes of the first half and 10 minutes of the second half.
Ulsh paced the Spartans with 16 points, six rebounds and four blocked shots. Hirssig added a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds and Doll chipped in nine points and seven boards. The three post players combined for just 19 points in Farmington’s 63-38 blowout of the Spartans Dec. 21 in Rochester.
Meyer scored 14 points and hauled in a team-high nine rebounds as the only Farmington player in double figures. Kenealy and Calhoun scored six points and Paige Steele added five.
The loss ended the careers of six seniors — Calhoun, Kenealy, Bridges, Koch, Sarah Silber and Jessica Gaalswyk. Several of the seniors have played varsity for the last three years, helping the Tigers to an overall record of 49-33 and two apperances in the Section 1AAAA finals.
“They committed at the beginning of the season to play together and be unselfish. We have 50-plus practices and did not have a bad one. They came in the gym every day and made each other better,” Berg said. “The seniors did a great job of leading by example. They accepted their individual roles and excelled in them. In the three years they played on the varsity they played in two section final games, won 23 games, and won a conference championship.”