Prep girls basketball: Grand Rapids upends Cloquet to capture section crown
The Thunderhawks were led by three double-digit scorers in the 51-39 win.
HERMANTOWN — After coming away with victories in both regular season meetings, top-seeded Grand Rapids earned its third and most pivotal win over No. 2 seed Cloquet in the Section 7AAA championship game, Thursday, March 10, at Hermantown High School.
The 51-39 triumph for Grand Rapids advances the Thunderhawks to a second consecutive state tournament and eighth since 2008.
The loss for Cloquet marks the end of its achievement-filled season, with the team finishing with an overall record of 20-8, after totaling just nine wins in the previous two seasons combined.
“To be in a section final this year just says (a lot) about these girls and who they are,” Cloquet coach Heather Young said. “Their commitment, their dedication, the hard work and the effort they put in, those are the things that make me most proud.”
The Lumberjacks were in lockstep with the red-hot Thunderhawks throughout the first half, but simply could not keep up in the final 18 minutes of play.
“We played hard and we had opportunities, but (shots) just didn’t fall for us tonight at moments, and that’s the way the game goes,” Young said. “Give Rapids credit, they just kept coming back at us.”
Grand Rapids leaned on its three double-figure scorers: Taryn Hamling (19), Jessika Lofstrom (17) and Braya LaPlant (10), whose contributions proved especially vital in the second half as the team slowly pulled away.
Coach Kristine Hamling said the spark provided by the three is nothing new given their innate ability to find one another for open shots.
“It’s just the chemistry that the girls bring to the floor. It’s the magic that they bring, knowing where everybody’s going to be on the floor, moving the ball and just reading off of each other, that’s really been the success this year that we’ve had for offense,” Hamling said.
Cloquet’s Alexa Snesrud provided the counterpunch for the ‘Jacks with a team-high 11 points. The junior scored the first basket of the game before earning three points the hard way a little later to give her team a 14-10 lead.
After the quick start, the offense sputtered as turnovers created fastbreak layups for the Thunderhawks, who capitalized on the mistakes with an 11-0 run to take a 21-14 lead.
Cloquet managed to cut the deficit to three down the stretch via contested shots made by Kiley Issendorf and Ava Carlson to make it a 24-21 game at the break.
The most crucial stretch came in the first few minutes of the second half when Grand Rapids stormed out of the gate with a 7-0 run to take its largest lead to that point at 32-21.
Maddie Young and Quinn Danielson stepped up with clutch shots to temporarily curb the momentum, but the deficit continued to grow shortly thereafter with shots not falling for the ‘Jacks like they had in the opening frame.
“We went for quite a few minutes with no baskets, and they were scoring … Those things kind of kill the momentum of a game, but then they came back,” Young said. “They were working hard, and we had it within nine. At that point time’s running out and baskets just weren’t falling for us.”
Grand Rapids maintained a double digit lead all the way to the final buzzer in a 51-39 final.
Cloquet finished the game with an overall field goal percentage of 32% (16-50), while Grand Rapids shot 40% (20-50) from the field.