By Brady Ambrose
Too much, too soon. That pretty much describes the atmosphere at Thursday night’s Class 1AA girl’s section championship game at the Mayo Civic Center between Pine Island and Caledonia.
The scenario was nothing new to the Warriors and coach Jimmy Westland. In December the Panthers jumped out to an 11-0 lead early, but the Warriors stormed back and cruised to a 52-42 win at Pine Island.
Not Thursday. This was a different Pine Island team. With four different players scoring in double figures and utilizing a defense that wouldn’t allow the Warriors to get into any kind of a rhythm, Pine Island rolled to a 59-45 win over the Warriors and earned their first trip to the state tournament at 6 p.m. tonight, March 13.
Just like the meeting in December Caledonia fell behind early, but this time they couldn’t get back in the game.
The Warriors missed their first 11 shots and fell behind 13-0 before a 3-pointer from Taylor Winjum got Caledonia on the board with 11:56 to play in the first half. It was a tough, physical game, and the Panthers used their size to their advantage. On several occasions Winjum, or Maddy Mullins or Lauren Rusert, or whoever was driving to the basket for Caledonia, ended up on the floor while Pine Island headed down the court with the ball.
Nicole Fokken, at 6’2”, along with 6’1” Sam Heeren and 5’11” Mattie Shelton, controlled the paint the entire game and also gave the Warriors problems when she – Fokken – scored 14 points. Heeren added 10 more. Pine Island also got a game-high 15 points from Cede Finstuen and 11 more from point guard Alison Newton.
“We had a slow start and we ran out of time,” said Caledonia coach Jimmy Westland, who guided the Warriors to a 22-8 record in his first year as head coach. “We teach them to fight through everything. We are teaching them that it’s bigger than the sport. We’re with these kids a lot, and we’re trying to teach them about life, and I feel we’re doing a good job. This seems big right now and it is big to us but hopefully they’ll look back and say you know what? We fought through some tough times that season.”
Mullins hit another 3-pointer at the 9:25 mark but the Panthers still led 19-6. Mullins hit two more baskets and finished the first half with a team-high seven points, her second jumper keeping Caledonia within sight at 26-14.
But the Panthers scored the final four points of the half and took a 30-14 lead into the break.
“Early on we were shooting and they weren’t going in. We were driving and there was a lot of contact and they weren’t calling it, but that’s just the way it is,” Westland said. “Pine Island is a great team; they deserve to go where they are going.”
Caledonia started the second half with a spark, cutting the lead to single digits after Winjum, Rusert and Maria Doering hit back-to-back-to-back three’s to cut the Pine Island lead to 32-23, but the Panthers answered with a 7-2 run to push the lead back to 39-25 on a free throw from Finstuen after Hannah Russert was called for her third foul.
With 9:17 left Fruechte scored to make it 41-30 but again the Panthers answered with five straight points to extend the lead to 46-30 on a trey from Heeren with 7:22 to play. Winjum hit a three on Caledonia’s next possession to keep the lead at 13 points, and a basket from Mullins trimmed the lead to 11 at 50-39 with 3:50 to go.
A jumper from Winjum and another 3-pointer from Mullins again got the Warriors within single digits at 53-44, but with only 45 seconds to play the Warriors would get no closer and the Panthers scored their last six points from the free throw line to seal the win.
“A very good season for the kids,” Westland said. “State runner-up in volleyball and then to get to the section championship tells you a lot about our kids. We went through a stretch in January where we lost like six games and we just kept fighting through it and never got negative attitudes. They’re just great kids in general.”
The Warriors finished the season with a 22-8 record. Winjum led the Warriors with 15 points in her final game for Caledonia. Maria Fruechte added seven points, five rebounds, a steal and an assist. Maddy Mullins, also in her final game, added 13 points, three rebounds and three steals. Hannah Russert, the other of the four seniors, also ended her basketball career for the Warriors. Marie Doering scored seven points, and Lauren Rusert added three in the loss.
PINE ISLAND 59, CALEDONIA 45
Caledonia 14 31 — 45
Pine Island 30 29 — 59
CALEDONIA (22-8): Fruechte 7, Mullins 11, L. Rusert 3, Winjum 17, Doering 7.
PINE ISLAND (25-6): Newton 11, Finstuen 16, Fokken 13, Heeren 12, Shelton 2, Langworthy 5.