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Girls basketball: MIB dashes Cromwell-Wright's hopes for state

Natalee Hakamaki (13) of Cromwell-Wright grabs a rebound against Mountain Iron-Buhl during the Section 7A girls basketball championship Thursday at Romano Gymnasium in Duluth. MIB defeated Cromwell 50-31 to advance to the state tournament. --- Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com1 / 3
Taya Hakamaki (1) and Elizabeth Risacher (14) both Cromwell-Wright console each other after losing to Mountain Iron-Buhl during the Section 7A girls basketball championship Thursday at Romano Gymnasium in Duluth. MIB defeated Cromwell 50-31 to advance to the state tournament. --- Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com2 / 3
Taya Hakamaki (1) of Cromwell-Wright chases a loose ball against Allie Negen (11) of Mountain Iron-Buhl during the Section 7A girls basketball championship Thursday at Romano Gymnasium in Duluth. MIB defeated Cromwell 50-31 to advance to the state tournament. --- Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com3 / 3

Longtime Mountain Iron-Buhl coach Jeff Buffetta was asked how often the Rangers played a triangle-and-two defense.

"Never," Buffetta said, flatly.

Well, they did on Thursday, and with championship results.

Senior guard Macy Savela scored 19 points and MIB held Cromwell-Wright to a season-low for points as the Rangers captured their ninth straight Section 7A title with a 50-31 victory before an estimated 1,300 at Romano Gym.

MIB (25-5) advances to next week's state tournament, where the Rangers will play an opponent to be determined in the Class A quarterfinals on March 14 at Maturi Pavilion in Minneapolis. For Savela and Co., this is all they've ever known.

In a big game, the experience difference also was evident. Top-seeded Cromwell-Wright has no senior starters. Second-seeded MIB has four who were all on varsity in seventh grade, meaning this will be their sixth straight tournament trip.

MIB implemented its triangle-and-two defense in practice two weeks ago in anticipation if the Rangers would see the Cardinals again.

The concept is simple and often used against teams with two star players; in this case, Cromwell-Wright cousins Taya and Shaily Hakamaki. Those two were guarded, mostly by Savela and Mia Ganyo, respectively, while the other three defenders form a triangle zone, paying close attention to the Hakamakis while almost daring other players to beat them. It didn't happen. Shaily Hakamaki was held to eight points and Taya Hakamaki six — both players average more than 20 per game — while no Cardinals reached double figures in scoring. Shaily Hakamaki hurt her knee in the first half and was limping in the second.

It was easily a season low in points for the Cardinals (24-2), who had their 18-game winning streak snapped. Cromwell-Wright hadn't lost since a 57-49 setback at MIB on Dec. 28, which was avenged with a convincing 78-58 win over the Rangers on Jan. 21. This time, however, the Cardinals didn't look anything like that.

It was an abysmal first half, with MIB leading 23-12 at the break.

"We didn't respond very well to (the triangle-and-two)," Cardinals coach Jeff Gronner said. "They set the tone. They were outhustling us to loose balls, offensive boards, just things we didn't give up last time we played them. We've seen a triangle-and-two during the season. It worked better this time because the team doing it is a lot better executing it.

'"We have girls who are capable of hurting them, but we didn't do it early. If we had done it early, they probably would have gotten out of it, but that didn't happen. It worked."

Mtn. Iron-Buhl 23-27—50

Cromwell-Wright 12-19—31

Mountain Iron-Buhl — Macy Savela 19, Brooke Niska 3, Miah Gellerstedt 1, Allie Negen 9, Sage Ganyo 2, Madisen Overbye 8, Mattison Bennett 8. Totals 18 6-16 50.

3-point goals — Savela 4, Niska, Negen, Overbye 2.

Cromwell-Wright — Taya Hakamaki 6, Emmalee Hoover 5, Shaily Hakamaki 8, Elizabeth Risacher 6, Andrea Pocernich 3, Jordan Jokinen 3. Totals 10 6-8 31.

3-point goals — Hoover, Risacher 2, Pocernich, Jokinen.

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