Jackets back in 7AAAA finals

March 6 Semis: C-I 71, Forest Lake 65

Keeping the home-court love burning strongly, the Bluejackets put together a couple of big second-half rallies to eliminate No. 3 seed Forest Lake 71-65 in the March 6 7AAAA semifinals. The win reversed a 60-49 loss the Rangers hung on C-I back on Dec. 20.

Brynn Liljander delivered consecutive '3s' as the Jackets fought back from a 57-51 deficit late in the section semifinal win over Forest Lake March 6.

The Rangers held a tight 34-32 lead at the end of the first half, then they worked ahead for 44-36 and 57-51 leads in the second half. The big burst for the Bluejackets came when Brynn Liljander knocked down consecutive three-pointers, then Whitney Olson sunk a ‘3,’ was fouled and finished off a free throw for a huge four-point play which had C-I ahead 64-63 late. The Rangers turned the ball over on an offensive foul on the ensuing possession.

Down the last minute, Olson delivered four more free throws. Later, Liljander came up with a big offensive board off a missed free throw, and she sunk two last charity shots for the final difference.

Olson led the team with 28 points, and Liljander scored 21. Those two combined to sink nine three-pointers. Natalie Larson, returning to action for the first time since breaking her hand, scored 8, and Paige Muehlhauser came through with 6 points and 7 rebounds, including a couple key defensive boards late. Emily Holboy and Amanda Hanson both added 4 points.

Junior Paige Muehlhauser grabbed a couple key defensive boards late amid her 7 rebounds in the win over the Rangers. Photos by Clint Riese, Forest Lake Times

• The Bluejackets (20-8) will play in their fourth-straight Section 7AAAA championship Friday night, March 9 (7 p.m.) at North Branch. They take on top-seed Duluth East (20-5) who defeated No. 4 Andover 59-48 in the March 6 semis. The Greyhounds clipped C-I 65-55 in their first meeting back on Jan. 3.

The 7AAAA winner advances to the Class 4A State tourney which begins the morning of Thursday, March 14 at the Target Center (seeding takes place this weekend).

March 1 Quarters: C-I 70, St. Francis 64

In the Section 7AAAA girls basketball quarterfinals March 1, No. 2 seed Cambridge-Isanti persisted in overcoming No. 7 St. Francis 70-64 in an entertaining opener to the 2012 playoffs. The Saints were within 66-62 with under a minute to play until C-I’s Whitney Olson sunk 4-of-6 free throws down the stretch to lead all scorers with 33 points.

The Saints began the game with a 19-9 lead midway through the first half. Olson popped a pair of three-pointers to help the Bluejackets cut the deficit to 28-25 at the break. More leading scorers for C-I were Lily Porta (8), Emily Holboy (7), Paige Muehlhauser (7), and Amanda Hanson (6).

“When we settled down, it just went smooth. We ran our offense perfectly. We took a deep breath after that first half, and we just went out there and did what we did best,” said Holboy on the Jackets’ slick interior passing game which thwarted the Saints.

“We had to be patient against St. Francis. Sometimes I try to break down a defense right away, but after we settled into our offense, it came easier to get the defense shifting when they were doubling on me,” said Olson. On the team defense, “We picked up on our press at times tonight. We knew we had to play defense to get this win. Slowing down (Saint point guard) Kelsey Gale was something we did well to get the lead.”

With her 33 points, Olson broke the Bluejacket girls’ single-season scoring record she set last year, a few games after the guard broke the school’s all-time career scoring mark. After the Forest Lake win, Olson is sitting at 644 points in 2012. “Home games are my favorite, and it was great to set the season mark here at home,” she said.

“This is the fourth year in a row this section has been absolutely wide-open. So going into every game, seed doesn’t matter. The goal is just to advance– whether you play awesome or whether you have to fight every possession. We played well enough to advance tonight,” said C-I Coach Jody Ledahl.