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Minneota's Molly Hennen (back) and Bethlehem Academy's Jessie Mathews fell to the floor while fighting for the ball in second half action Friday at Target Center. Photo: JIM GEHRZ * jgehrz@startribune.com

Taylor Reiss scored two of her 22 points from the free-throw line in the final seconds to secure Minneota’s spot in its first girls’ basketball state championship.

The Vikings held off the Bethlehem Academy of Faribault’s late surge for a 47-44 victory in the Class 1A girls’ basketball state semifinals Friday afternoon at Target Center. 

“Those last free throws were the most crucial. I had to make those to make sure we got through,” Reiss said. “We’re the first team to make it all the way to the finals.”

The pair of free throws ended Bethlehem Academy’s valiant attempt at a comeback in the final 70 seconds.

The Cardinals trailed 44-37 and had the ball after Minneota drained more than a minute off the clock with 28 passes in one possession. A combination of four points from the Cardinals’ Taryn Ashley and the Vikings’ poor free-throw shooting and turnovers left Bethlehem Academy with a chance to tie with six seconds left.

But Ashley missed what would have been the tying free throw, and Reiss closed it out on the other end.

Emily Stienessen added 14 points for Minneota, and Molly Hennen had 11 rebounds, five assists and two steals. Jessie Mathews led Bethlehem Academy with 16 points, while all eight Cardinals scored at least one point.

“We’re not a young team anymore,” said Minneota guard Shelby Corbin, who ran the Vikings’ offense one day after taking an elbow to the head. She was cleared to play 45 minutes before game time.

Coach Chad Johnston said Corbin’s presence was important to limit Bethlehem Academy’s standout guard Jessie Mathews. The Cardinal’s all-time leading scorer had just two points in the final five minutes.

Minneota held a 30-16 advantage in points in the paint. It also improved its shooting percentage in the second half to 50 percent, up from from 32 percent in the first half. 

The Cardinals’ Taylor Schwab battled a bad ankle, but managed eight points, six rebounds.

JASON GONZALEZ

Three Stars

1. Taylor Reiss, Minneota
Scoring many of her points in the paint where she gave up a fair amount of size to her larger opponents, Reiss was a force to be reckoned with. Nailing two free throws with three seconds left to give her team a three point lead that would stand as the final.

2. Emily Stienessen, Minneota
Stienessen was a model for efficiency in this semifinal game. Missing only one shot inside the arc, she finished with 14 points on seven out of eight two point shot attempts.

3. Jessie Mathews, Bethlehem Academy
Mathews did it all in this game. She hit shots from outside (3, 3-pointers), hit the boards (8 rebounds), and was active on the defensive end (4 steals).

-Jake Lunemann, MN Girls Basketball Hub

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