At one point in the second half, as parents and students teetered between hope and despair, St. Michael-Albertville guard Bobbi Brendefur and fellow guard Sydney Tracy looked at each other, Tracy said something, and the two laughed.
“I think the girls’ attitude was that they weren’t going to let this get away. They knew the opportunity. They had been there before. And there’s something to that. So you could tell that they weren’t going to get anxious,” said head coach Kent Hamre.
But laughing? During a tie game midway through the second half?
“We knew we weren’t done. No way,” Brendefur said. “This wasn’t going to be our last game. We weren’t going to let that happen.”
St. Michael-Albertville, which trailed by as many as 15 points in the first half, used a second half comeback for the ages to win going away, 72-64, and earn their four straight trip to the State AAAA Girls’ Basketball tournament next week. The No. 3 Knights used 22 points from Brendefur to key the comeback, the biggest of those coming on a 3-pointer with under four minutes left that put STMA back in the lead for good.
“It probably wasn’t her best shot of the night,” Hamre said of the bomb his senior took from well behind the top of the key with a hand in her face. “But she took it with conviction and she buried it. So, there you go.”
For Brendefur, Jaymie Hansen and forward senior Jordyn Walker – who had the unenviable task of guarding Elk River post Abi Scheid the entire night – it’s a fourth trip in four years to the big dance.
“I think it’s a game of runs. We knew it would be, and they had their first there midway through the first half,” Hamre said. “We though we could get our offense going and get back into it, and when we tied it up you could see a little bit of doubt come in. There’s something to tradition, and we’ve been fortunate to play in this game the last seven years.”
While Section Championships aren’t new to Hamre and the program, the Knights are hoping the trip to Minneapolis has something new in store – a win and a trip to the semifinal. So far, the STMA girls have gone out in the first round each year at this level.
“I think there’s a bond this team has that we carry out to the floor, and that makes a big difference,” said junior Syndey Tracy after the win. “We can turn to anybody and know they’re going to make a play. The young players have done so much already. And the seniors aren’t ready to be done, yet. So it’s a good team effort every night.”
It took a team effort on defense to hold Scheid, who poured in 40 points in the Elks’ semifinal win over Rogers, to just 21 points, and only seven in the second half. Elk River had huge contributions from guard Ava Kramer in the first half, and Gabi Haack kept the Elks on top in the second. But Lizzy Heil and Tracy keyed a stretch where the Knights forced four turnovers on five Elk River trips – including a pair of traveling violations, and allowed the offense to take over the game.
“The first half was probably the worst stretch of basketball we’ve played, maybe all season, on offense,” Hanson said. She probably wasn’t lying – the Knights made just six shots from the field, but were 14 of 14 from the free throw line. “We knew in the second half we had to play our game. We played better help defense and we just supported each other.”
The Knights will open the Class AAAA State Girls’ Basketball Tournament at Target Center next Tuesday. Seeding will be announced later today or this weekend.