That’s why they play the game.
On paper, the Redwood Valley girls basketball team entered Friday night’s Section 3AA title game as David to Eden Valley-Watkins’ Goliath.
The Eagles came into the game undefeated at 27-0 with 26 wins by double-digits including all three prior Section 3AA tournament games.
In the past three seasons the Eagles had gone 77-8 overall, and they were playing in a second straight Section 3AA title game.
Redwood Valley (19-8), meanwhile, had to rally from down 18 at home to JCC in the second round and survived a white-knuckler with Pipestone Area 41-38 to reach the title game.
The Cardinals were in the midst of their first winning season in five years and just two seasons ago had gone 2-25. With ice water in their veins, the Redwood Valley girls did not back down to their unbeaten opponents, establishing that they were there to compete from the opening tip.
Leading 28-25 at the half, the Cards would take advantage of a 20-9 run to open the second stanza and would hold on late to defeat the Eagles 62-58 and punch their ticket to state.
“I’m so proud of the girls,” Coach Taya Kockelman said. “They came into the game with a great mindset and really took on the challenge against an unbeaten opponent and got the job done.”
The sophomore trio of Sydney Sommers, Haley Garman and Aubree Hicks – coupled with a huge game from senior Amy Martius – was enough to push the Cardinals to the state tourney for the first time since 2014.
Don’t get me wrong, it was a collective team effort along with an outstanding coaching job by Kockelman and her staff who had the Eagles (27-1) bewildered for all but the final 30 seconds.
With the win, the Cards drew a match-up with number one ranked Roseau (29-2) in the quarterfinals Wednesday (tonight) starting at 6 p.m. at Williams Arena.
The Rams enter the game as state champions in 2017 and as state runners-up in 2018.
Kacie Borowicz – who has signed on to play at UND next season – was a 3,000 career point scorer averaging 27.1 ppg and 8.3 rpg. Sister Katie Borowicz added 20.4 ppg and 6.6 rpg.
Win or lose the Cardinals are guaranteed another game this week.
“Our girls are really embracing the moment,” Kockelman said. “We’ve proven we can play with anybody, and we’re going to go into the game with Roseau with winning on our minds.”
In the March 8 win over EVW, the Cards trailed early 4-0 but would answer back and take a 7-6 lead on a Martius three with 11 minutes to go in the first half.
The teams would continue to battle back and forth for most of the first half.
Hicks buried a three to give the Cards an 18-16 lead, and a Bri Panitzke drive off the glass made it 20-20 with 2:30 left to go. The Eagles would take a 25-24 lead with less than a minute to play, but Sommers would knock down a pair of free throws and added a putback bucket as time expired to put the Cards up 28-25.
A Garman deuce and a Caitlyn Johnson three-pointer would up the Cardinal lead to 33-25 right out of the second half gate, and they would continue to put the foot on the gas. A pair of Martius three pointers and a Sommers three wold give the Cards a 56-42 advantage, and they would hold onto a double-digit lead until a late Eagle rally made things interesting.
The Eagles would go on a 16-4 run in the final five minutes to narrow the gap to 60-58, but Hicks would calmly bury a pair of free throws in the final 20 seconds to seal the victory.
“I thought we handled the pressure well,” Kockelman said. “We’re playing great team basketball right now, and the girls are embracing their roles and stepping up in crucial situations.”
Sommers would finish with 18 points, four rebounds, two steals and two blocked shots. Garman had a double-double of 14 points, 10 boards and two blocks, and Martius had 15 points, four rebounds, two assists and a steal.
Hicks added eight points, four rebounds and two assists, Johnson had three points and two assists, Hannah Schjenken added two points and Panitzke had two points and a rebound. Leah Irlbeck pitched in with three rebounds and two steals.