Tesha Buck (12) and teammate McKayla Muelken celebrated Red Wing's 61- 59 victory over Richfield in Thursday's Class 3A semifinal at Target Center in Minneapolis. Photo: JERRY HOLT * [email protected]
Tesha Buck was on the bench, the result of five fouls. As was Macy Kelly. And McKenna Schaffer. Red Wing’s three senior starters watched nervously, hoping and believing that their less utilized — but clearly no less important — teammates would be able to hold off a desperate Richfield rally.
They did, just barely, escaping with a 61-59 victory over top-seeded Richfield in the Class 3A semifinals Thursday at Target Center. It sent the Wingers to a championship game for the first time in team history.
Showing composure in a frantic situation, Red Wing converted seven of 10 free throws in the final two minutes. For the game, the Wingers made 27 of 36 free throw attempts.
“We always talk about how no one player is more important than any other,” Red Wing coach Dave Muelken said. “It showed out there. We had everybody step up when we needed them.”
It wasn’t just Red Wing that was forced to battle attrition. Richfield’s starting guard Sierra Ford-Washington, the Spartans’ second-leading scorer, hurt her knee halfway through the first half and never returned. Not long after, Richfield’s star guard, Jessica January, was forced to sit down with three fouls.
With January and Ford-Washington on the bench, Red Wing gained the first significant advantage of the game, outscoring Richfield 11-3 in the final 3:28 of the first half for a 35-28 halftime lead.
In the second half, fouls mounted for both teams. Buck, Red Wing’s smooth guard, picked up her fifth foul with 3:01 remaining in regulation. Kelly picked up hers less than two minutes later. Red Wing led by three points, 54-51, at the time and had more than 3,000-career points on the bench.
“I was tough, but I had faith in my teammates,” said Buck, who still managed to lead the Wingers with 18 points. “I knew they could handle adversity.”
January nearly brought the Spartans back by herself, scoring their final 12 points. But Red Wing’s proficiency at the foul line never allowed Richfield to get closer than two points. January finished with a game-high 29 points.
“It was all about free throws,” Richfield coach Scott Stadem said. “We gave them 36 of them. We put them on the line and they finished.
1. Jessica January, Richfield
January led the Richfield offense with 29 points and completed the double-double with 12 rebounds. She played a fantastic game and did everything she could to keep her team in it. She got in foul trouble in the first half and Richfield was a completely different team without her on the floor. Red Wing went on an 11-3 run to close out the first while she was out. She also played tenacious defense on Red Wing star Tesha Buck.
2. Tesha Buck, Red Wing
There were many storylines surrounding Buck in this game; she sustained an injury in the first half and eventually fouled out in the second half. Despite all that, Buck was still able to put up 18 points and lead Red Wing in scoring in her limited minutes. She hit a few NBA range threes and the Red Wing offense was less potent without her in the game.
3. McKayla Muelken, Red Wing
Muelken might only be an 8th grader but you would never know it by the way she played in this game. She hit some huge free throws to help ice the game for the Wingers and handled the majority of the ball handling duties when Buck fouled out. She didn't make a huge impact on the stat sheet but she handled the pressure incredibly well at the end of the game, even while being guarded by one of the best seniors in the state in Jessica January.
-John Kelsey, MN Girls Basketball Hub