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Hopkins explodes in second half to rout upset-minded Stillwater

By JIM PAULSEN, Star Tribune, 03/16/19, 9:45PM CDT


Trailing by six points early in the second half, the Royals roared back with a 44-10 run en route to a 74-45 victory to win the Class 4A title.

Hopkins players celebrated their 74-45 victory over Stillwater in the Class 4A championship game. Photo: Aaron Lavinsky ¥ aaron.lavinsky@startribune.com

Paige Bueckers woke up Saturday feeling like doing anything but playing basketball.

“Paige was throwing up this morning and sicker than a dog,” Hopkins coach Brian Cosgriff said.

With the Class 4A championship game just hours away, the timing could hardly have been worse.

In the end, it mattered little. Hopkins used a 44-10 second-half blitz to rout Stillwater 74-45 to win the Class 4A state championship Saturday at Williams Arena. It’s the Royals seventh state championship since 2004, but the first time they’ve done it without losing a game, completing the season 32-0.

“This is like the best ever, I’m not going lie to you,” Cosgriff said.

Bueckers, Hopkins’ scintillating junior guard, said she never entertained thoughts of sitting the game out, no matter how ill she was feeling. There was too much at stake: a state championship, obviously, but also a reputation, with the Royals having lost title games the past three seasons.

“I didn’t care what was happening this morning, I was coming to play with my team,” she said. “Talk has been I came up short three years in a row. Is my legacy going to be I can get to the state title but I can’t win one?”

For a half, Stillwater played the role of dream-killer to perfection. With their leader hurting, the Royals took a while to adjust. The Ponies took advantage of their uncertainty, building a 29-27 halftime lead. It was the first time all season Hopkins had trailed at halftime.

First report

The question was legitimate, considering how thoroughly Hopkins had dispatched its 31 opponents ahead of Saturday’s Class 4A state championship game:

Can anyone beat the Royals?

Stillwater earned the season’s final chance to find out. Outside of Wayzata, the consensus No. 2 in Class 4A all season, a team that had lost to Hopkins three times, the Ponies were viewed as a team with a chance.

When presented with a certain angle of logic and reason, a Stillwater victory seemed possible. The talent was there, starting with a terrific backcourt of Sara Scalia and Alexis Pratt, who matched up well with Hopkins athletically. The size was present, too, in 6-2 junior post Liza Karlen. And Stillwater hangs its hat on its pressure defense, much like Hopkins.

For one half, Stillwater played the role of dream-killer to perfection.

But after halftime, when a two-point Stillwater lead had grown to six, Hopkins exploded. The Royals went on a 44-10 run, pulling away for a 74-45 victory in the Class 4A championship game.

The Royals (32-0) won the title for the first time since 2015 and the seventh time in coach Brian Cosgriff’s career. It was Hopkins’ first undefeated championship.

Hopkins guard Dlayla Chakolis (33) and Stillwater guard Sara Scalia (14) chased down a ball knocked loose by Chakolis in the first half. Photo: Aaron Lavinsky ¥ aaron.lavinsky@startribune.com

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