The Eastview bench erupted after forward Megan Walstad (45) tied the game in the second half with a 3-pointer. Photo: AARON LAVINSKY • email@example.com
There was no panic on the Eastview bench. No concern, no worry.
Hopkins, behind a tremendous performance from Paige Bueckers, bolted out to a 13-point lead midway through the first half of the Class 4A championship game. A lesser team might have caved in.
Eastview proved it was far from a lesser team. The Lightning absorbed the blow, steeled its reserve and set about the task of winning a state championship.
Showing veteran poise, Eastview outfought and outplayed Hopkins during the game’s final 28 minutes, rallying for a 68-63 victory on Saturday at Target Center.
The Lightning completed a perfect season, 32-0, and won their second state championship in five seasons.
Eastview guard Emma Carpenter (4) held the team's championship trophy as she and her teammates rushed toward the student section after the Lightning's 68-63 victory over Hopkins. Photo: Aaron Lavinsky * firstname.lastname@example.org
The storyline before the Class 4A championship game was the rivalry that had developed between Hopkins and Eastview, Saturday’s combatants.
Eastview had lost 10 of the previous 14 meetings between two teams, but the only game that mattered was Saturday. For that, the Lightning had everything they needed.
Getting contributions up and down the lineup, Eastview survived a remarkable performance from Hopkins’ Paige Bueckers and capped an undefeated season with a 68-63 victory.
The first half was a Bueckers showcase. Hopkins’ remarkable sophomore guard, the Star Tribune Metro Player of the Year, has been motivated all season by the memories of Hopkins’ back-to-back championship game losses, and she put the Royals on her back early.
She asserted herself from the outset, looking for her shot at every opportunity. Using an array of slicing drives, pull-up jumpers and step-back three-pointers, Bueckers was nearly unstoppable for most of the opening 18 minutes.
She scored 14 of Hopkins' first 16 points and helped the Royals build a 13-point lead, 25-12, less than seven minutes into the game.
Eastview responded with veteran composure. The Lightning didn’t panic, continued to execute their offense and clawed their way back into the game.
Eastview has a star of its own in senior forward Megan Walstad, who managed to score 11 points and grab four rebounds before halftime, all while drawing the thankless task of guarding Bueckers.
Bueckers came back down to Earth briefly, missing her last two field goal attempts, as Eastview closed the half on a 10-3 run. The Lightning, buoyed by holding Hopkins scoreless over the last 2:44 of the half, went into the locker room feeling good about themselves, trailing just 33-30.
Bueckers had scored 23 points, but Eastview was clearly back in the game.
The second half started as a continuation of the end of the first. Eastview cut the lead to a single point, 33-32, on two free throws by Mariah Alipate. A basket by Hopkins’ Dlayla Chakolis briefly bumped the lead back to three points, but Walstad sank a three-pointer that tied the score 35-35 with 16:01 left in the half.
Bueckers and the Lightning traded offense over the next few minutes. Bueckers scored seven consecutive points for the Royals. Eastview got an offensive spark from freshman Cassidy Carson, who scored seven straight of her own, putting the Lightning back in the lead 47-44.
It was back-and-forth thereafter, with different players stepping forward for Eastview to match Bueckers. Her three-point play gave Hopkins a 49-47 lead, but Eastview came right back with a 7-0 run.
Eastview built a 56-50 lead before Raena Suggs, who had struggled with her shot all game, made a three-pointer and hit a free throw to cut the lead back to two.
Eastview built the lead back to six, 64-58, but Hopkins, getting inspired play from Chakolis, cut it to 64-63 with 29.1 seconds left. Two free throws from Macy Guebert made it 66-63, Hopkins missed two shots in the final 10 seconds and Eastview had the victory.
Bueckers finished with 37 points. Eastview was led by Walstad, who had 20, and Alipate, who finished with 15.
Check back later for an updated report.