MINNEAPOLIS — In the end, it turned out just how the Monarchs had hoped.
And thanks to a steal by Savannah Yost, the Thomas More Prep-Marian girls’ basketball team advanced to its third straight Class 3A state tournament with a victory Saturday night against Russell.
The senior’s steal with only seconds remaining sealed the Monarchs’ 38-36 victory in the defensive battle in the 3A sub-state title game.
“It was huge,” Yost said. “We were looking for a steal.”
It was only fitting the game came down to a defensive stop.
Neither team could get into a rhythm all game long thanks to both teams playing solid defense. That also allowed the game to be close the entire time.
“It was like we never could pull away,” said TMP coach Rose McFarland. “We’d get a three- or four-point lead, and we just never could pull away. I thought defensively we played really good. Aubrey played great on Tiffany Dortland. She is an excellent player. She just followed her everywhere. … I thought defensively they played really good against us, too. Offensively, our shots didn’t fall, and we got a little tight. I wouldn’t say panicked, but a little more conservative than what we normally play. But we held on, and I’m happy about that.”
The Monarchs, who finished third in 3A the last two seasons, led 14-10 after the first quarter and 22-18 at the break.
Senior Jaclyn Schulte kept the Broncos (18-4) close, tallying 10 of her 15 points by halftime.
But senior Aubrey Koenigsman’s defense on Russell junior Tiffany Dortland kept one of the Broncos’ top players in check the entire game. Despite battling leg cramps in the fourth quarter, Koenigsman held Dortland to only three points the entire game.
“We knew they were a good team and it would be a battle the whole time,” said Yost, who finished with nine points.
TMP (20-2) pushed the lead to 25-18 to start the third quarter, only to see Russell battle back and eventually take a 27-25 lead when Dortland hit her only shot of the game — a 3-pointer from the right wing — at the 1:20 mark of the period.
But junior Jillian Lowe answered with a 3 of her own on the next possession, and junior Emily Schippers sank a triple seven seconds before the quarter ended to give TMP a 31-27 lead.
Senior Kayla Vitztum scored off the glass to start the fourth quarter, giving TMP a 33-27 lead.
Russell battled back again, pulling within one on three different trips in the final 2:31.
“They had opportunities, and they cashed them in,” McFarland said. “Russell is a great team. Frank (Schulte) does a good job coaching them. I thought we played them good defensively, and they did the same thing. It was just a tough game. Both teams wanted it so bad. I think that made it tight.”
The Monarchs had a chance to put some distance between themselves and the Broncos, only to see free throws not fall.
That allowed Russell to have a final chance to tie or win it with just seconds remaining. After calling a pair of timeouts, the Broncos inbounded the ball from the sideline. An across-the-court pass was swiped by Yost, who raced the ball to the other end to run out the clock.
“I actually read it pretty well. I saw it coming,” Yost said. “I was scared a little bit when it first happened. But after it happened, it was relief.”
The play put the Monarchs back in the 3A finale in Hutchinson, where they will play in the first round Thursday.
“Throughout the whole game, we battled the whole time,” Yost said. “We were excited. We were up, didn’t get down on ourselves. It was big for us.”