Game of two halves is thriller for the ages
Reaching the March 16 Class AA championship game, the story line buildups were all there: 2nd-ranked New Richland-Hartland (31-1) against undefeated 3rd-ranked Braham (32-0). The Panthers’ scoring machine junior Carlie Wagner against the Bombers’ record-magnet senior Becca Dahlman.
Mixed into the background was the Panthers’ shocking 30-point quarterfinal win over the Bombers last year at State where they finished 2012 winning the 3rd-place game.
New Richland began the championship in similar fashion on the Target Center floor. The Panthers’ smothering 1-3-1 zone stymied the Bomber offense as turnovers mounted, and Wagner supplied enough offense to create leads as large as 21-8 and 27-14 in the first half.
“In the first half, too many turnovers. Sixteen turnovers in the first half and 12 offensive rebounds that they had. I don’t know for sure, but of the 12 offensive rebounds, little No. 2 (Marnie Wagner) maybe had eight of them– too many second-chance points,” analyzed Coach Tim Malone. “They ran their 1-3-1 so well. We got pulled down to the floor, and we just had to play through it.”
“New Richland had big runs against us last year at State and beat us by a lot. We did not want them to come into this thinking it was going to be that easy again,” said Braund. “We wanted to show them that we weren’t going to roll over.”
Second half charge
The game turned electric for the Braham side after the girls came back from the locker room. Dahlman, limited to two points while saddled with three fouls in the first half, hit a floater, and Kayla Nickles finished off a steal with a layup. Dahlman continued to attack the Panther zone, and her banked shot had Braham within 35-32 at the 12:23 mark, forcing a NRHEG time-out.
Soon after, Dahlman sunk a shot off a good screen, and Nickles drained a ‘3’ for the team’s first lead at 37-35. A Hollenkamp steal and feed to Dahlman was followed by a Dahlman ‘3’ which kept Braham ahead 42-41.
But Wagner answered back with a string of cold-blooded shooting en route to 50 points. Her three-point play followed by two more field goals had NRHEG up 58-51.
With under two minutes left, Dahlman nailed two free throws and fed Braund for a bucket. Dahlman’s coast-to-coast sprint had it down to 58-57. That turned out to be the Bombers’ final score of her illustrious six-season career since she instinctively picked up her fifth foul while trying to stop the clock on a Panther possession with 37.4 to play.
Still fighting, Nickles snared a steal and layup to forge a 59-59 tie. But Wagner added a free throw with 6.1 seconds left, and she made a steal in a heap of bodies to stop Braham’s one last attempt for the win.
“I just think we’re a good team. We deserved to be here on this Saturday,” said Coach Malone. “I’m proud of the effort. I told the kids right now in the locker room the only way they should hang their heads at all was if they left the floor feeling like they didn’t give us everything they had. I think as far as the physicalness of the game, I think as far as giving us what they had, they gave us everything.”
“New Richland was everywhere with that zone defense. Once we found the openings, that’s what got us on our run,” finished Braund. “We had the goal of winning, but we fell short a little bit. There was nothing to be disappointed about. New Richland’s a great team, and I feel our team played great against them.”
New Richland-H-E-G 60, Braham 59
Bomber stats (pts/reb/asst): Dahlman 32, 8, 4; Braund 9, 9, 1; Nickles 12, 8, 1; Winter 0, 5, 1; Hollenkamp 6, 4, 0; Bendickson 0, 1, 0.