The Farmington Tigers girls' basketball team advanced to the section 1AAAA finals this past week with wins over New Prague (the seventh seed) and No. 3 Lakeville South. The Tigers beat New Prague 80-58 on Wednesday, Feb. 28, at home and then traveled to Rochester where they beat South 45-41 at Mayo Civic Center on Saturday, March 3. With the two wins, Farmington makes the section finals for the first time this decade.
Farmington handled New Prague pretty easily in the first round as they led by seven at half and then outscored them by 15 in the second. Four different Tigers (Peyton Blandin, Ellie Clayton, Molly Mogensen and Kaitlin Winston) all scored in double digits and a total of 10 different players scored.
"Offensively we were playing a great game," head coach Liz Carpentier said. "They're (New Prague) a good team and they're much improved as well, so it was back and forth a little bit, but into the middle part of the first half we kind of took control and stretched the lead out, and they had a couple of big shots their to cut the lead down to seven by halftime. When we came out of halftime, we just turned up our full-court pressure a little bit and had consecutive stops coming out of halftime. So it was just a good thing to build off of."
The Tigers faced tough-sledding the entire game against the Cougars, much of it their own making. They were plagued by turnovers for much of the game, especially at the start which caused them to fall behind quickly. Farmington trailed 8-7 seven minutes into the game but were able to take a 16-14 lead with 4 minutes, 30 seconds left in the half. Much of the Tigers' early offense came from freshman center Sophie Hart, who dominated on the offensive glass, either getting put backs or fouled. Hart had nine points in the first half.
Farmington trailed 23-18 at halftime as they struggled to rebound out of their 2-3 zone, which was made difficult by the several long rebounds on three-point attempts. It was a couple three pointers that gave Lakeville South its lead before the break.
The second half featured physical play on the perimeter by both teams. The Tigers came out in the second half with better energy and physicality, but still trailed 34-28 with less than eight minutes to play. However, Farmington then went on a 10-0 run as it was able to force some Cougar turnovers with a press. The Tigers led 38-34 with just over five minutes left and 40-38 with under three minutes remaining. In the last five minutes, both teams missed a bunch of free throws, which allowed Farmington to keep the advantage. Down the stretch the Tigers were able to make just enough to hold off South and win 45-41.
Complimenting Hart's strong first half was the play of guards Clayton, Blandin, Paige Kindseth and Mogensen. They were key in handling South's pressure, and in the second half were much more aggressive while breaking the press, going to the basket and drawing fouls on the offensive end.
A learning experience
"I thought we, as a team, I thought we played tight just about the whole game," Carpentier said. "I thought you could definitely see some nerves out there, you could see the kids who hadn't played there. We just struggled right off the bat, I think our first five possessions we might have turned the ball over. There wasn't really any flow."
"If you look back on the game ... it was just kind of an ugly game," she said. "But that's what Lakeville South likes to do, they're going to take time off the clock."
Despite the cold start offensively, Carpentier said she was happy with how her defense played.
"I thought we played good defense, I thought our zone was actually good," she said. "But we just struggled defensively rebounding and that was the first game all season that I thought we really struggled and I think you could see that. So just giving them some second chance opportunities, that's kind of uncharacteristic of our team. But once we extended our pressure and we moved into the full court, we scored 12 points, I think, in two minutes, maybe two and a half."
Carpentier said she was confident once that turnaround happened, but that sloppy play made the game much closer than it could have been at the end had they made more free throws. However, she also said that an experience like that only benefits her team in the future.
Farmington will play Lakeville North on Thursday, March 8, in Rochester at the Mayo Civic Center again with a game time of 6 p.m. The Tigers lost to the Panthers twice this regular season, with the game at Farmington being very close.