Girls reach 7A semis

Wolves bow out with close loss to Cromwell, after shocking South Ridge in section quarterfinal clash

by Tom Coombe
Midnight came about four hours too early for the Cinderella Ely Timberwolves.
Out to score their second monumental playoff upset in as many tries, the Wolves led at the half but faded late as second-seeded Cromwell rallied for a 52-45 Section 7A high school girls basketball semifinal victory in Duluth.
The loss ended a remarkable stretch for the sixth-seeded Wolves, who stunned three-seed South Ridge 69-63 four nights earlier in the same venue - Romano Gymnasium on the campus of the University of Minnesota-Duluth.
Grace LaTourell scored the Wolves’ last nine points - all at the free throw line - as Ely stormed back from a 17-point deficit to beat South Ridge.
In the semifinals, sophomore Sarah Visser and junior Madeline Perry spurred the Wolves to a 28-23 lead at the half against a veteran Cromwell team.
But the lead wouldn’t hold, and a 10-0 Cromwell run midway through the second half proved to be pivotal and foiled Ely’s bid to reach the Section 7A finals for the first time in school history.
The Wolves reached the final four of the section for the first time since 1999.
“I couldn’t be more proud of how we responded,” said head coach Max Gantt. “We got better and more confident and we beat one really good team and almost beat another. This team has worked hard all year.”
Visser, who led the Wolves with 20 points, got hot from three-point distance against Cromwell, which entered the game ranked 10th in the state in Class A.
The Wolves were deliberate and patient early on and shook off any big-game jitters.
Ely fell behind 23-22 after a series of late turnovers but responded with six points to end the half and a 28-23 lead.
Visser’s three-point play the old fashioned way, on a drive to the hoop and a subsequent free throw, gave the Wolves a 36-32 edge but the tide would soon turn.
The Wolves cooled while Cromwell rose to the occasion.
Senior Sascha Korpela poured in 16 of her game-high 22 points in the second half and sparked a run that gave Cromwell a 42-36.
The Wolves got it back down to one on a triple by Madeline Kallberg, but Ely would never again take the team.
In the closing minute, Ely was unable to cash in after a missed Cardinals free throw and the Wolves ran out of time.
Another experienced senior, Andrea Pocernich, scored 14 points for Cromwell (22-5), which advanced to take on Mt. Iron-Buhl, the top-ranked team in the section and state, in Friday’s 7A title clash.
Perry wound up with 12 points for the Wolves (15-11) while Kallberg netted six and LaTourell finished with five.
The quarterfinal game with South Ridge was not for the faint of heart.
Ely seemingly came out of nowhere, after two lopsided losses to the Panthers, both that ended in running time after South Ridge led by as many as 35 points.
The Wolves also fell behind in the third match-up, but never fell out of contention.
South Ridge led 43-29 at halftime and went up by as many as 17 early in the second stanza before the Wolves started to chip away.
Some pressure defense created problems for the Panthers, who soon felt the pressure of a potential upset.
With seven-and-a-half minutes left, the gap was down to 55-48 and Ely was rolling.
A three-point shot by Perry trimmed the margin to 60-58 and a basket by Madison Rohr brought the Wolves back to dead even at 60-all.
That’s when LaTourell took over. The junior was fouled on a three-point attempt with about two minutes left and she calmly made all three attempts.
South Ridge missed and soon fouled LaTourell, and she added two more free throws to give Ely a 65-60 edge.
South Ridge was forced to play catch-up and the favorites never caught all the way up.
LaTourell would add four more free throws and the unheralded Wolves had an improbable win.
Improbable to all except perhaps the Wolves and Gantt.
“I thought we could play with them,” he said. “The key was getting off to a good start and even though we fell behind we were still right in it. It took us going on a run to catch up but we were in position to do that and we weren’t the first two times we played them. Then at the end those were some clutch free throws from Grace.”
LaTourell led the Wolves with 21 points, with Perry (17) and Visser (14) also hitting double digits.
The future bodes well for the Wolves with all three top scorers back as well as starters Kallberg and Rohr, as well as junior Lily Tedrick and ninth-grader Audrey Thomas.
Ely’s only varsity senior was forward Ande Visser.
“This was a young team that accomplished a lot,” said Gantt. “They have every reason to be excited for next season and what it could bring.”