Girls basketball: Shot clock, snow don't slow Cards, Rangers
While a foot of snow fell in the Northland last week, many high school holiday event schedules were adjusted, postponed or in some cases, even canceled.
That's what happened at Mountain Iron-Buhl, as a pair of girls basketball teams opted not to play in the Rangers' yearly holiday tournament due to wintry weather.
All but MIB and Cromwell-Wright, that is.
The adoption of a rare shot clock nor snow slowed the Rangers and Cardinals from facing one another in a fast-paced, uptempo tilt that MIB managed to win 57-49 on Friday, Dec. 28, in Mountain Iron.
Despite Pine River-Backus and Bigfork forgoing one of the state's finest Class A girls hoops holiday events because of poor travel conditions, the Rangers and Cardinals couldn't help themselves from playing one another in an adjusted game.
"There wasn't any hesitation," said Cromwell-Wright junior Taya Hakamaki, who scored a game-high 29 points against MIB. "I've been playing them since fourth grade, I think. We always enjoy playing them."
After all, MIB has been to the last eight state tournaments, while Cromwell-Wright went to two of the past three. In fact, the Rangers eliminated the Cardinals deep in the Section 7A playoffs in 2013, 2014 and 2015, before Cromwell-Wright claimed the Section 5A title in 2016 and 2017, joining MIB in Minneapolis come March. This winter, both teams are a combined 14-2, and the Rangers are ranked No. 2 in Class A.
"We always look forward to the matchup with each other," said Rangers coach Jeff Buffetta, whose team was paced by senior duo Allie Negen and Macy Savela's 25 and 18 points, respectively. "It's always good basketball."
And last week, Buffetta upped an already pair of quick-tempo teams by using a 35-second shot clock in their brand-new gymnasium.
The clock, which resets every time the ball hits the rim or there is change of possession, keeps the game flowing and teams' chances abundant. While it is used in all of the pros, all of college and a number of states in the U.S., the shot clock has not yet been agreed upon for high school use statewide in Minnesota.
Buffetta, who asked the coaches if they were interested in experimenting with it last week, is a major fan.
"I wish we had a shot clock," he said. "It creates opportunities."
"I enjoyed it a lot," said Cromwell-Wright junior Shaily Hakamaki, Taya's cousin.
While the clock is supposed to push the pace of a game, these two have no problem with that, as a pair of the most fleet-moving teams up in the state. MIB scores 77.4 points a night to Cromwell-Wright's 70.9.
Thus, last week's score was a little lower than expected — 28-20 MIB at the half — but remained nip-and-tuck throughout. While the contest included a few shot clock violations, the game play was nothing short of "intense," Cardinals coach Jeff Gronner said.
"Both teams want to win," Shaily said.
So much so in fact, that Shaily hit her head on the floor while driving to the hoop early in the second half only to return a couple minutes later and play on.
"I told Coach Gronner to put me back in," said Shaily, who averages 20 points per game, but scored just four points last week. "I wanted to be out there helping my team."
That team, along with fellow 7A contender, Cherry, can compete with mighty MIB Gronner said. The Cardinals and Rangers actually wrangle again Jan. 21 in Cromwell in a rematch likely to have standing room-only seating.
The pair could also meet for the 7A title come March. Gronner and Co. are still seeking their first win over their northern nemesis.
"Our goal is to win the section and to do that, we'll have to beat MIB," Gronner said. "We'll just have to keep working on the small things to get better for March."
The Hakamakis, two of four family members on the team, agreed.
"I'm very confident that we can pull it off," Taya said.
"If we want to win, we have to push a little harder," Shaily added. "I think we can."
Mountain Iron-Buhl 28-29—57
Cromwell-Wright — Taya Hakamaki 29, Emmalee Hoover 5, Shaily Hakamaki 4, Natalee Hakamaki 4, Elizabeth Risacher 3, Andrea Pocernich 2, Amber Collman 2. Totals: 19 7-9 49.
3-point goals — T. Hakamaki 2, Hoover, Risacher.
Mountain Iron-Buhl — Macy Savela 18, Brooke Niska 3, Allie Negen 25, Madisen Overbye 2, Mia Ganyo 3, Mattison Bennett 6. Totals: 20 12-21 57.
3-point goals — Negen 2, Savela, Niska, Ganyo.