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Eastview's Madison Guebert made a pass as Park's Sydney Lamberty played tough defense.
Physical interior defense and size were the difference as top-seeded Eastview defeated No. 2 seed Park of Cottage Grove 61-45 on Thursday in the Section 3, 4A girls’ basketball championship in front of a raucous crowd at Hutton Arena on the campus of Hamline University.
With the victory, the Lightning advance to the state tournament that begins Wednesday at Target Center. The Wolfpack fought gamely in the second half, paring the halftime deficit of 36-20 to eight points late, but ultimately never got closer in losing by an identical margin.
Eastview controlled the tempo in the first half, exploiting its size advantage for easy buckets in the paint as well as forcing fouls. Teammates Madison Guebert and Hana Metoxen each chipped in 19 points. Forward Tyra Johnson used her 6-1 frame down low, but she also showed range by stepping out to hit from the perimeter en route to add 14 points
“We felt like we would do a good job inside against them,” said Eastview coach Melissa Guebert, who will take the Lightning to its second consecutive state tournament in her two years with the team. “Obviously, they have two very strong guards, so we felt we had to keep the ball away from them.”
One of those guards was Larissa Lurken, the Wolfpack's leading scorer, who repeatedly found herself going up against larger defenders in hopes of creating space where it was rarely found. She still managed to lead Park with 15 points.
“We felt like we had to keep [Lurken] and Sydney Lamberty off the ball,” coach Guebert said. “I think we did a nice job on that with different kids.”
As a result, Lurken regularly found herself off-balance or on the floor.
Still, her coach praised her effort. “Larissa hasn’t been banged around like that in a while,” said coach Stephanie Tolkinen. “She’s pretty tough, and she really had to work hard, but we only took her out once in each half. She’s pretty resilient.”
Coach Guebert specifically wanted to address the crowds, and not just the hometown bunch but Park’s fans, as well. “They really come out and support the girls,” she said, “and that’s what this is really all about.”