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Girls basketball: Hill-Murray gains fourth straight state tournament appearance
Graskewicz sinks game-winner in third overtime
Hill-Murray 44 - Simley 40
While the Hill-Murray boys hockey team was winning a game in the first round of the Class AA state tournament at the Xcel Center in downtown St. Paul, the Hill-Murray girls basketball team was in the process of gaining its fourth straight berth in the state Class AAA basketball tournament.
In the final of Section 4AAA girls basketball action at Washington High School Thursday, March 7, the Pioneers faced a familiar rival -- the Simley High School Spartans -- from the Classic Suburban Conference.
Twice during the regular season the Spartans (12-2) knocked off the Pioneers. The first game went to overtime. Simley, located in Inver Grove Heights, went on to win the conference title.
The third time the teams met this season was perhaps the most important, because the victor would head to the state Class AAA tournament.
In the end, Hill-Murray survived three overtimes to win the low-scoring game, 44-40.
Hill-Murray head coach Erin Herman called it “a tough defensive battle.” She said the third overtime, which lasted some 45 minutes, could be described as an all out war.
In the end it was Hill-Murray sophomore guard Olivia Graskewicz who made the difference.
“She sank a three-pointer with about a minute and a half left to go,” Herman explained. “Then she was fouled and made one free throw. That was the four-point difference in the final score.”
The game could have been decided in favor of either team if they had hit from the free-throw line.
In the contest both were less than proficient from the line. Simley shot 10-for-17 (59 percent) while Hill-Murray made just 5-of-15 (33 percent).
The Spartans were up by three - 18-15 - at the halfway point in the game.
“We made some changes defensively and came back to tie them at the end,” Herman said.
“I have never been involved in a game like this one,” the veteran coach said with a chuckle. “ It was back and forth. No one - on either team - quit and no one gave up through the whole game.
“It came down to the fact that our kids just refused to lose. It was a hard-fought, defensive game. It was very physical with the officials calling the game evenly both ways.
Herman continued, “Both teams made sure there were no ‘easy’ baskets. Neither of us was able to set the offense on fire. I told our kids at the end of the game,
“No matter who we face in the state tournament, they won’t know us as well as Simley. Even last year, our games were hard fought and close battles.”
A year ago in conference action, Simley and Hill-Murray split, with each one winning on its home court. The margin of difference in the two battles was four points with Hill-Murray owning the difference.
In the March 7 game, Simley’s Abby Kane led all scorers with 12 points. She was followed by Spartans Kayla Brown 9, Aejah Lockett 9, Alexis Boyd-Lockett 6 and Maya DeLao 4.
Leading the Pioneers was Graskewicz with 11. Sarah Langer was also in double figures with 10, followed by Dana Savino 9, Ellie Schwartz 6, Tessa Doolittle 4, McKenzie Lindahl 2 and Sophie Schwartz 2.
The unseeded Pioneers (19-10) will open their state tournament play Wednesday, March 13, against No. 1 seed Richfield (26-3) at 10 a.m. at Williams Arena on the University of Minnesota campus.
Section 4 AAA girls basketball
In girls Section 4AAAA playoffs, both Tartan (fourth seed) and North (eighth) lost to St. Paul Central (first).
In the opening round Feb. 27, the Polars traveled to Central and were handed a 71-38 setback.
The loss ended North’s season with a mark of 6-21, while Central (23-4) moved on to play Tartan.
The Titans entered Section 4AAAA play against Cretin-Derham Hall (fifth seed) and advanced to semifinal action with a 69-65 win.
The victory earned the Titans an opportunity to play the Central Minutemen.
In a game played March 3, the Tartan season ended when eventual Section 4AAAA champion Central beat the Titans, 81-66. Tartan finished the season with a record of 17-11.
Central took a mark of 26-4 into the Class 4A state tournament.