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Girls basketball: Cards to face rival Rangers in Section 7A final

Cromwell-Wright’s Taya Hakamaki (1) unloads a baseball pass in the first half of the Cardinals game at Romano Gym on the UMD campus in Duluth on Tuesday, March 5. (Jed Carlson / 1 / 5
Cromwell-Wright’s Shaily Hakamaki (4) knocks the ball away from Deer River’s Hope Schjenken (25) in the second half of the Cardinals game at Romano Gym on the UMD campus in Duluth on Tuesday, March 5. (Jed Carlson / 2 / 5
Cromwell-Wright’s Taya Hakamaki (1) does a reverse lay-up in the first half of the Cardinals game at Romano Gym on the UMD campus in Duluth on Tuesday, March 5. (Jed Carlson / 3 / 5
Cromwell-Wright coach Jeff Gronner yells out a defensive call during the second half of the Cardinals’ game with Deer River at Romano Gym on the UMD campus Tuesday, March 5. (Jed Carlson / / 5
Cromwell-Wright’s Amber Collman (24) grabs a rebound away from Deer River’s Grace Bergland (43) in the first half of the Cardinals game at Romano Gym on the UMD campus in Duluth on Tuesday, March 5. (Jed Carlson / 5 / 5

The Cromwell-Wright girls basketball team is right where it wants to be — in the Thursday, March 7, Section 7A finals against arch-rival Mountain Iron-Buhl.

That's both the good news and the bad news.

Cromwell-Wright (21-1) suffered its only loss at the hands of the Rangers (21-5) on Dec. 28 in a 57-49 road setback. But the Cardinals came back to crush MI-B 78-58 in Cromwell-Wright on Jan. 21 — a win that coach Jeff Gronner said really sparked his team.

"It was huge," Gronner said. "We hadn't beaten them since 2010 and I had never beaten them as a head coach."

But that's the matchup Thursday night at Romano Gym at Minnesota Duluth. The Cardinals punched their ticket with a 62-42 win over Deer River on Tuesday, March 5, while the Rangers scraped by Cherry 52-48.

The first half wasn't great for Cromwell, which shot poorly and had trouble dealing with Deer River's 1-3-1 zone and half-court trap.

"We hadn't seen that defense all season," Gronner said. "We struggled with it in the first half."

Cromwell-Wright still took a 24-19 lead to the break before finding its shooting touch in a 38-23 second-half performance. Shaily Hamamaki had 26 points, including six 3-pointers, to lead the charge while Taya Hakamaki added 21 more.

"Without those two, I don't know where we'd have been," Gronner said. "Shaily hit five 3-pointers in the first half and that really helped us."

After that, the Cardinals turned things over to their vaunted defense and held off the Warriors with ease.

Deer River scored 15 of its 42 points from the free-throw line and hit just 12 field goals on the night. Lucy Kaczor led them with 13 points.

"You can always play defense," Gronner said, "even when you aren't shooting well. Defense kept us in the game and has helped us win games this season."

Gronner said turning up the heat without the ball was a key.

"We played a lot harder and smarter and more together on the defensive end in the second half," Gronner said. "All season long, we've seen improvement on the defense."

So what was the difference between the first game with the Rangers and the second?

"Shaily scored four points in the first game," Gronner said. "Not to blame her, of course, but as a team, we weren't nearly as good as we were in the second game. We have to play that way again."

It will also settle the argument over who has the better team.

"We'll find out Thursday," Gronner said. "I'll have the two best players on the court, but they are the champs for a reason. It will be a full 36-minute game. They'll pressure us the whole time and until someone beats them, the section is theirs."

"We aren't favorites, but we aren't underdogs, either," Gronner said. "Our girls are definitely confident we can beat them again, but it's a pick 'em game. Two even teams going at it. They (MIB) work so hard on the defensive end and are a harassing team. We'll have to do the same thing on our defense and do it better than they do."

Cards end Panthers' season in second round

Along the path to the section finals, Cromwell-Wright ended the season for South Ridge (15-10), with an 88-39 decision in the tournament's second round Saturday, March 2. Taya Hakamaki scored 22 points and Shaily Hakamaki added 21 more to go along with 19 points from Andrea Pocernich. The Cardinals scored 56 points in the first half and held the Panthers to 14 points in the second half.

South Ridge was led by Courteney Sajdak's 12 points on the evening.

The Panthers had defeated Ely 60-42 in the first round, led by Sadjak's 26 points and 13 more from Adella Olesiak. The Panthers led the Timberwolves 29-18 at halftime and held them at arm's length the rest of the way.

MIB knocks off Wrens in second round

Wrenshall (3-24) left with a highlight — winning its first playoff game with a 37-36 decision at Silver Bay on Feb. 25. The next round was more difficult, though, with the Wrens facing Mountain Iron-Buhl in the second round, falling 100-11 in Mountain Iron.

All-conference second-teamer Hailey Tauzell led Wrenshall with 20 points in the win in a nip-and-tuck game that saw the Wrens take a 15-13 lead to intermission. Samantha Nyberg added 10 points for the victorious Wrens in the game.