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Hopkins Erin O'Toole made her way through the Bloomington Kennedy defense for a first-half basket in the Class 4A championship game Saturday night at the Target Center in Minneapolis. Photo: MARLIN LEVISON/STARTRIBUNE * mlevison@startribune.com

The Hopkins “fist” slammed down one final opponent standing in the way of a third consecutive championship. The Royals blew out Bloomington Kennedy 68-45 in the Class 4A girls’ basketball championship game at Target Center on Saturday night to claim title No. 3.

Hopkins star Nia Coffey held three fingers in the air after the game, along with the championship plaque. Though seemingly everyone else expected it, she never dreamed this day was a possibility.

“I never thought from the beginning I would have been here. To do it three times means a lot,” said Coffey, the Star Tribune Metro Player of the Year, after she collected 25 points, 16 rebounds, four blocks and even a steal.

Coach Brian Cosgriff called the senior forward special, but made sure to touch on other contributors: Taylor Anderson scored 11 points, Mikaala Shackelford added seven, Erin O’Toole grabbed nine rebounds, and Nia Hollie chipped in six points. Together they were the “fist” taking blows at the opposition all year.

“We’re five people coming together on the court to form a fist,” Shackelford said. “If one finger or person sticks out, it’s hard to throw a punch.”

Hopkins’ knockout blow connected at the end of the first half and carried long into the second. The Royals (31-1) gained control with a 23-1 run, going from trailing 25-20 with 3:24 left in the first half to leading 43-26 with 12:36 remaining in the second.

Senior forward Jade Martin led Kennedy (28-4) with 19 points but didn’t get into double digits until midway through the second half, when she scored the Eagles’ first field goal of the second half with 9:22 left in the game.

“They were getting second chances and we couldn’t box out. [That run] was hard,” Kennedy junior guard Kenisha Bell said.

The Royals’ full-court pressure gave the Eagles problems all night. Kennedy had an answer for it in the first half and even managed a slim lead, but Hopkins wouldn’t relent and Kennedy eventually broke down.

Coffey scored Hopkins’ first points in each round of the state tournament but this time never hit a lull. She had a double-double (12 points, 10 rebounds) in the first half alone. The biggest of her baskets was the three-pointer she netted just before halftime. Kennedy led for most of the final six minutes of the half until Coffey’s three with 1:09 left gave the Royals a 28-26 halftime edge.

The two teams met in the first week of the season and Hopkins squeaked by 65-61 on the road at Kennedy. At the time, Bell felt as if the Eagles had a few more minutes it would have been a different result. They got 36 more minutes Saturday — and couldn’t keep up.

Hopkins became the first Class 4A school to win three consecutive championships since the tournament expanded to four classes.

Said Cosgriff: “This might be my all-time favorite [championship] because of all the pressure we had on us.” 

3 Stars

1. Nia Coffey (Hopkins) - Coffey led all players with 25 points and 16 rebounds. With less than a minute to go in the first half she drilled a 3 that took back the lead and Hopkins never looked back. In the second half she pulled down an inbounds lob out of the air with one hand showing her strength and athleticism. 

2. Jade Martin (Bloomington Kennedy) - With her teammates struggling, Martin had to carry the load for Kennedy in the second half. She finished with 19 points and 6 rebounds. She was the only Eagle in double figures.

3. Taylor Anderson (Hopkins) - Anderson wasn't the only Hopkins player to defend Kennedy's Kenisha Bell, but when she did she shut her down. As the primary ball handler Anderson dished out some nifty dimes to her teammates that opened up the game for Hopkins in the second half. She dropped in 11 points and grabbed 4 rebounds.

-Pete Heldstab, MN Girls Basketball Hub

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