Waconia senior Estelle Marker (41) was fouled by Holy Family Catholic's Grace Murphy on this first-half drive. Marker scored 12 points in the Wildcats' two-overtime 68-66 victory over Holy Family. Photo by Mark Hvidsten, SportsEngine
One word stands out on a team poster attached to the wall near the entrance to Waconia’s new gym: Relentless.
That’s the theme for the Wildcats, one that illustrates the difference between last season’s squad and this year’s. This edition of the Waconia girls' basketball team is more mentally tough, and it showed Thursday in a 68-66 double-overtime win over Wright County Conference rival Holy Family Catholic.
“We talked about last year how we have to be mentally tougher,” Waconia coach Carl Pierson said. “We can’t fold when things don’t go our way. Tonight was an example of how much we’ve grown up. That’s why we’re 11-3 right now, because any time we face a tough situation now, we’re relentless. The kids don’t hang their heads and they don’t pout. They just keep playing.”
Waconia trailed 48-39 with 3 minutes, 40 seconds to play in regulation. Some tough drives and finishes by Waconia's second-leading scorer Tess Johnson (11.9 points per game) helped trim that deficit, and some missed free throws by the Fire kept the Wildcats alive.
With a chance to tie the game at 50, junior post Courtney Freeberg got a layup to drop in the closing seconds, only to have her coach call a timeout before the play finished.
Waconia, ranked No. 9 in Class 3A by Minnesota Basketball News, came right back out and fed its leading scorer again, and Freeberg didn’t miss the second try either, knotting the game at 50 with seconds to go.
“When I made the basket and he called the timeout, I was like, ‘Shoot! It went in,’ ” Freeberg said with a laugh. “I just told myself I’ll get another shot, everything happens for a reason. Obviously it was a good timeout, because we ended up winning.”
Freeberg had a game-high 24 points. She tied the contest in the first overtime, converting a basket while getting fouled and then calmly hitting the free throw to make it 59-59 with 5.7 seconds to play.
Freeberg had eight points in the extra periods, and senior Estelle Marker went 5-of-6 at the free-throw line in that span as well. Sidney Zieske hit a three-pointer in the first overtime just after Waconia fell behind 58-53.
“Our motto this year is 'Relentless.’ It shows how [far] we’ve come,” said Freeberg, who is averaging 12.9 ppg. “We didn’t hang our heads when we got down in the second half, and to come back; even when they scored in overtime and double-overtime, to push through just shows how tough we are and how we support each other.”
“That’s what we said,” Pierson said. “We took a timeout when we were down nine with 8 minutes to go, and we just said, ‘This is who we are. We’ve gotta be relentless, and if we’re relentless, we can come back.’”
Pierson credited the bench for providing energy through the game, and acknowledged a bevy of players made big plays at different moments in the game. The difference between last season’s 9-19 squad and this year’s 11-3 start boils down to mental makeup.
“I totally agree,” Freeberg said. “Last year, if we’d get down by eight, we’d hang our heads. This year, we look at each other like, come on, let’s go, because we want to win. This year is our year. It’s all about mental [toughness].”
Waconia struck the first blow in what looks to be a three-way race between the Wildcats, Holy Family Catholic and Hutchinson for the Wright County Conference East Division crown.
Pierson said the win over the No. 6-2A Fire was symbolic of the toughness the Wildcats have, something they’ve demonstrated plenty of times this season. It should also serve as a reminder of what they’re capable of, next time a game starts tilting in the opposition’s favor.
“It’s one of those things where if we find ourselves in a tough spot, we’ve already proven to ourselves we can come back,” Pierson said.
The Wildcats' Courtney Freeberg battled the Fire's Julia Geurs on her way to the basket in the second half. Freeberg scored 24 points in Waconia's two-overtime victory. Photo by Mark Hvidsten, SportsEngine
The first matchup between a ranked pair of Wright County Conference East Division rivals was worth the price of admission.
Waconia, ninth in Minnesota Basketball News' Class 3A rankings, rallied late in regulation and gutted out a 68-66 double-overtime win at home against No. 6-2A Holy Family Catholic. The Wildcats improved to 2-0 in division play and remained in a tie with Hutchinson atop the standings.
Courtney Freeberg had 24 points for Waconia, including crucial baskets that tied the game twice -- first in the final seconds of regulation and an old-fashioned three-point play that tied the game at 59 with 5.7 seconds to go in the first overtime.
Freeberg scored eight points in the two overtimes while senior teammate Estelle Marker, who had five of her 12 points in the extra periods, made a pair of free throws with 14.1 seconds to play to put the Wildcats (11-3) ahead 68-66.
Holy Family Catholic led 48-39 with 3:40 to play in the game, but Waconia's Tess Johnson had a big finish in regulation to help cut the deficit to two points.
After Freeberg tied the game at 50 with 3.2 seconds to play, the Fire's desperation heave fell off-target and the game went to overtime.
Shea Thompson had 21 points to lead the Fire (11-3, 1-1), while Leigh Steiner and Julia Geurs each added 12.
Holy Family Catholic's Leigh Steiner (20) encountered a wall of Waconia defenders. Steiner finished the night with 12 points. Photo by Mark Hvidsten, SportsEngine
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