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Joe Brown / Forum News Service, Published March 13 2013

Fergus Falls falls in 2 OTs at Minnesota state girls basketball tournament

MINNEAPOLIS – Fergus Falls head girls basketball coach Brad Strand called Wednesday’s Minnesota Class 3A state quarterfinal game with Monticello an instant classic.

“Our kids worked so hard, and it was just an unbelievable game,” Strand said.

But the instant-classic moniker came with a caveat: The Otters saw their season come to an end in two overtimes.

“We came up just one point short,” Strand said. “It was heartbreaking.”

Coming back from a 15-point deficit with 12 minutes left in the second half, the unseeded Magic clawed back to end regulation on a 23-9 run. Then after going through one extra period, Monticello was able to knock off one of the state’s last undefeated teams with a 79-78 victory at Williams Arena.

“It was very back-and-forth,” said Fergus Falls’ Anna Monke, who scored 19 points and grabbed nine rebounds in 40 minutes. “Both teams were pretty tired. In a back-and-forth game like that, you just have to score points, and they scored more.”

With the victory, Monticello moves to the Class 3A semifinals against defending state champion DeLaSalle at 2 p.m. today at the Target Center.

With a 32-25 halftime lead, the third-seeded Otters (29-1) looked ready to advance to the state semifinals. At the 8-minute mark, Hanna Swenson powered her way through the paint to make it 54-40.

Fergus Falls looked ready to go on, but Monticello had different ideas.

Relying on the backcourt duo of Grace Sawatzke and Alyssa Lentner, the Magic (25-5) chipped away at Fergus Falls’ lead. The duo combined for 41 points.

Then with 4:45 left, Monticello got its big break as Swenson fouled out. Swenson was 8-for-8 from the field for 16 points and seven boards in just 18 minutes.

“That was on me,” Brad Strand said of Swenson fouling out. “I thought it was her fourth foul and it ended up being her fifth. … It hurt us because she’s such a good player both offensively and defensively. It forced us into a smaller lineup, and Anna Monke couldn’t get a break.”

Sawatzke completed the Magic’s comeback with 15 seconds left in regulation with a layup to put the score at 63-63. Bailey Strand put up a desperation 3-pointer at the buzzer, but it bounced off the rim.

In the first overtime, Monticello took just its second lead of the game when Bailey Bechtold hit a layup with 1:19 left to put the score at 69-67. But Bailey Strand found some redemption for the Otters, tying the game on a layup with 1:08 left.

“She’s just a good threat to have,” Monke said of Bailey Strand, who had a team-high 26 points on 8 of 13 shooting. “When teams don’t respect her and face-guard her, she’s going to hit some 3s.”

Fergus Falls held the ball for the final try, but could not get a shot off, putting another four minutes on the clock.

Brianna Rasmusson put the Otters up 73-71 with 2:46 left in the second overtime, but Lentner swiped the lead away with a steal at midcourt that turned into a fastbreak layup for a 74-73 advantage. Fergus Falls, which was ranked No. 1 in Class 3A since the start of the season, never led again.

Bechtold cemented the game with a pair of free throws with 10 seconds left to make it 79-75.

“It’s unbelievable,” Monticello head coach Craig Geyen said. “Our kids never quit, never quit, never quit.”

M (25-5): Sawatzke 8-14 5-8 23, Laimer 5-12 5-6 16, Lentner 5-11 7-9 18, Bechtold 5-10 6-8 16, Gau 0-4 3-4 3, Cole 1-1 0-0 2, Schmitt 0-0 1-2 1. Totals 24-54 27-37 79.

FF (29-1): Smith 2-5 0-0 5, Strand 8-13 4-4 26, Rasmusson 1-9 4-6 6, Swenson 8-8 0-3 16, Monke 8-16 2-2 19, Traiser 2-3 0-0 4, Sawtell 1-3 0-0 2. Totals 30-57 10-15 78.

Halftime: FF 32, M 25.

3-pointers: M Sawatzke 2, Laimer, Lentner; FF Strand 6, Smith, Monke. Total Fouls: M 16; FF 28. Rebounds: M 29 (Lentner 11); FF 35 (Monke 9). Assists: M 14 (Sawatzke 8); FF 23 (Rasmusson 10). Turnovers: M 16; FF 25.

Brown writes for the Red Wing Republican-Eagle