Trojan girls return to state after 2-year absence

New Prague’s return to a section girls basketball championship game was a wild ride.

The Trojans, who had played for six straight section titles until losing to Mankato East in last year’s section semifinals, faced those same Cougars on Thursday, March 7, at Gustavus Adolphus College with the Section 2AAA championship on the line.

East got off to an early lead, but the Trojans took charge midway through the first half and led by as many as 10 points late in the game, only to see the Cougars stage a comeback that brought them to within one point, at 53-52 with 13 seconds left.

The Trojans forced a turnover and held on for a 54-52 win and a spot in this week’s state tournament. The

Trojans (22-6) were scheduled to take on a familiar foe at the state tournament in Red Wing, a team that handed them two of their six losses this season. That game was scheduled for noon on Wednesday, March 13, after this edition of The New Prague Times went to press. Check The Times website at newpraguetimes.com for tournament results.

Wednesday’s winner advances to the Class AAA semifinals at noon on Thursday at the Target Center in Minneapolis.

Trojans 54, Cougars 52 Mankato East sliced into the Trojans’ lead late in the game, thanks in part to some solid three-point shooting and also to poor free throw shooting on the part of the Trojans.

The Trojans made just 11 of 20 free throws. “If we had shot better at the line, it would have given us a better margin,” Trojan coach Ron Gunderson said.

“Mankato East has a nice team. They weren’t going to give the game away. They came at us from the outside and from the inside. We shot just enough free throws to hold on to win.”

New Prague was led by Lexi Ruehling with 14 points and seven rebounds. Annie Dittberner had 12 points and four assists, and Ella Grote scored 10 points and netted two steals.

Others scoring were Steph Hanson (8 points and three steals), Maizie Deihl (8 points and 9 rebounds), and Jess Allar (2 points).

The Trojan defense forced just 14 turnovers, but their defense did affect East’s shooting, as the Cougars made just 31 percent of their shots, and just 27.5 percent of their two-point shots.

State Tourney Coaches seeded the eight tournament teams on Sunday morning. New Prague took the No. 4 seed and Red Wing the No. 5 seed.

Richfield drew the No. 1 seed and will face Hill-Murray at 10 a.m. Defending state champion DeLaSalle was the No. 2 seed and faces Chisago Lakes, while Fergus Falls, ranked No. 1 through most of the season, is the No. 3 seed and faces Monticello. Gunderson said he looked forward to the challenge of facing Red Wing again.

“We’re used to playing them three times a season,” Gunderson said. “When we were in Section 1AAA, we faced them for the section championship twice and in the semifinals a couple of times,” he said. “There are no secrets here. Both teams know each other so well, it’s just a matter of going out and doing what you do, and doing it better.”

Red Wing won the first game between the teams on January 8 by 10 points, and on February 5 they won by nine. In the first game the Trojans fell behind by as many as 20 points before staging a comeback. In th second meeting they led for much of the game before faltering.

“It will be a good matchup,” he said.

If New Prague wins they will get the winner of another conference rivalry game, between Hill-Murray and Richfield, both members of the Classic Suburban Conference.

“Richfield is the No. 1 seed, and justifiably so,” Gunderson said. “Jessica January is an outstanding player. They press and run, and have good size. They’re a complete team with depth.”

Thursday’s semifinal winners will face off at 6 p.m. Saturday at the Target Center for the state championship. The losers will play at 2 p.m. Saturday at Concordiau University in St. Paul for third place.