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CLASS A STATE GIRLS: Cardinals go cold against defending state champs

MINNEAPOLIS — What a difference a day makes.

Thursday night, Jeff Gronner watched his Cromwell-Wright girls basketball team shoot to a single-game state tournament record when his Cardinals canned 13 3-pointers in a state quarterfinal win over Red Lake.

The next afternoon however, on St. Patrick’s Day nonetheless, Gronner’s girls caught no luck.

Living and dying behind the arc seemingly all season long, Cromwell-Wright was a dismal 6-for-31 from downtown against Goodhue Friday, as the defending champion Wildcats were not to be tamed in their 70-48 victory during Friday’s Class A semifinal at Williams Arena in Minneapolis.

“We didn’t have our A game,” said Gronner in the postgame press conference, not-knowingly wearing a green shirt and tie for extra fortune on Friday.

“It didn’t work,” added Gronner about the shirt 

Nor did many of their attempts from 3-point land. Despite senior Chelsea Swatek — the school’s all-time leading scorer — swishing the Cardinals’ first shot of the afternoon, a 3-pointer, Cromwell-Wright went 1-for-16 afterward en route to a 2-for-17 effort in the first 18 minutes. That equates to 11 percent.

In contrast, an evening earlier they connected on nine triples in the opening frame, making more than 56 percent of their long tries, ending on a 52 percent clip. Friday they finished at just 19 percent 

Switches like that just don’t happen; at least Gronner hadn’t seen it all year. He admitted their team-wide percentage averaged 41, while in the postseason, they were between 45 and 55 percent in all of their contests. But it was Friday — by far, their lowest mark of the season — where it seemed like there was a lid on the basket.

“We just weren’t on,” said senior Bailey Gronner, Jeff’s daughter, “especially in this game.”

And this game’s opponent was perhaps the last one the Cardinals would have liked to go cold against. Goodhue has it all: Scoring, rebounding, experience, a state title to their name, and most of all, a defense.

Their constant full-court 2-2-1 trap caused the third-seeded Cardinals (26-5) issues often, turning a usually-speedy squad into 18 turnovers and creating heavy-breathing for the five Cromwell-Wright starters — all five who played every second of the first half.

“We’re usually the fast team, so we weren’t used that,” Swatek said of the Wildcats’ speed and athleticism.

For second-seeded Goodhue (27-4) — a small farming town an hour south of the University of Minnesota campus — Maddy Miller led the charge with a game-best 21 points, while Emily Benrud added 15 and both Sydney Lodermeier and McKenzie Ryan had 12 and 10. The Wildcats’ artillery of weapons seemed to have no end.

“We have some of the grittiest, fastest, most tenacious players in the state,” said Goodhue coach Josh Wieme, who won his 222nd game on Friday. “That’s how we play — we attack. They’re always going and they don’t stop.

“I think that was the difference maker,” he added.

That it was during a game that Goodhue led 26-19 at half and never looked back in their 22-point victory en route to a return trip to Saturday’s championship against No. 1 seeded Mountain Iron-Buhl at 12 p.m. Last year, the Wildcats whizzed by Maranatha Christian Academy 89-64 for the title. Now, they’re seeking to repeat.

“That would be cool,” admitted Miller of the thought of two titles in two straight years.

Asked of the top-ranked Rangers (31-1), now in their seventh consecutive state appearance and seeking their small Iron Range school’s first championship?

“They’ve just got a lot of good players,” Wieme said of MIB, led by coach Jeff Buffetta and his 401 wins. 

So do the Wildcats, as evidenced on Friday. With their endless list of tough athletes, they seemed to rush the Cardinals on offense at times, Wieme noted. They also controlled the boards all afternoon.

Still, Gronner’s girls didn’t quit chucking, nor playing. Swatek finished with 13 points, followed by freshman Shaily Hakamaki’s 12, respectively. They hit four 3-pointers in the second half, twice as many as they nailed in the first. 

“There’s no quit in those girls,” Gronner said. 

And a win during Saturday’s 11 a.m. third-place game at Concordia University in St. Paul against No. 5 Maranatha (24-8), would cement the Cardinals as the highest finishing team in school history. Cromwell-Wright placed fourth back in 2004. 

In a game between a pair of run-and-gun clubs that average almost 80 points per contest, don’t expect Gronner’s gang to ease up on the arc after one unlucky day.

After all, the Cardinals have made a single-season state record 333 3-pointers this year.

“We live and die by that line,” Gronner said.

And don’t forget, what a difference a day can make.

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