The Cambridge-Isanti girls are making their third straight appearance in the Section 7AAAA championship after pulling together to win their first two playoff games.
The No. 3 seed Bluejackets (20-8) get surprising No. 9 Anoka (5-24) in the 7AAAA finals hosted at 7 p.m. Friday, March 11 in North Branch. The young Tornadoes knocked off Duluth Central, top-seed Duluth East and No. 4 Andover– with their leading scorer in those games being freshman Claire Lundberg.
The 7AAAA winner will open the Class 4A State tourney on Wednesday, March 16 at Target Center. The brackets will be set by a seeding process this weekend.
C-I 51, St. Francis 49
The Bluejackets began their playoff run with a tight battle against the rival Saints which was settled when junior Natalie Larson hit the boards in the final seconds and dropped in the game-winner just before the buzzer sounded.
“It was supposed to be a pass out to Whitney, but she got covered. Then Paige shot it, and I just wanted to get the rebound and put in before time ran out,” replayed an excited Larson afterward. “I did not know if it went in time or not.”
C-I opened the game with leads of 12-2 and 16-6 before the Saints answered back to take a 32-29 lead into the break. Larson’s inside shot, Deandra Vavra’s breakaway off a steal and Whitney Olson’s five points pulled the Jackets ahead 40-36 in the second half. Olson’s fifth ‘3’ of the game kept the lead at 45-41, then she hit 4-of-4 free throws to keep the edge until the Saints tied it with two free throws with 20.2 seconds left.
“We knew we had to play our game to win. We had to work on boxing out a lot since they were fast, and we needed to get those extra shots,” said Vavra who emotionally went to the bench with her fifth foul with 4 minutes to play. “I didn’t want that to be my last game. It was kind of nice to see my teammates help me out and get me another game.”
Olson doubled up with 25 points and 12 rebounds. Vavra finished with 8 points and 7 rebounds, with 8 rebounds apiece garnered by Larson and Darah Olson.
C-I 55, Blaine 47
The Bluejackets began the March 7 semifinals with turnover troubles, but their work on the boards kept them in the first half which the Bengals led 23-21 at the break. From the end of that half into the second, the Jackets tore off on a 23-2 run fueled by Larson’s offense, along with the inside defense and rebounding of Vavra and Emily Holboy off the bench.
Down the stretch, free throws were converted by Paige Muehlhauser, W.Olson and Larson as C-I held off the Bengals in the semis for the second straight year.
Larson led the Jackets with 19 points and 8 rebounds, followed by W. Olson (14) and Vavra (9 points/11 rebounds).