With seven seconds remaining in the state Class 4A championship game, and her team trailing by three, Hopkins ninth-grader Paige Bueckers pulled up for a straight-on jumpshot from NBA three-point range.
As the ball hung in the air, it seemed to be right on line, but even though the shot found the cylinder, the ball bounced away and was recovered by Danielle Lachmiller of the Elks, who made one of two free throws to seal a 64-60 win.
There was plenty of fanfare leading up to the game, which featured opponents with matching 31-0 season records. A big crowd with enthusiastic student sections filled the lower stands at the University of Minnesota’s historic Williams Arena.
Elk River led 35-30 at the half before boosting its lead to 44-34 early in the second half. In the first half, the Elks made five of six three-pointers. They opened the second half by making three straight threes.
Hopkins showed the character of an undefeated team by rallying to take its only lead of the second half, 54-52, on a putback by 6-1 junior forward Angie Hammond.
The Royals were able to keep it close after that, but could never regain the lead.
Hopkins players couldn’t hold back their tears as they proudly wore the red ribbons and silver medals during the awards ceremony after the game.
Royal head coach Brian Cosgriff, who has six state titles on his resume, was disappointed – not for himself, but for his players.
“According to our stats, Elk River shot 60 percent from three,” he said. “It was a great game between two wonderful teams, and unfortunately, we came out on the short end. Games like this are a lightning rod for Minnesota girls basketball. I am proud of the way our girls came back. The state tournament is a great experience for everyone, and I never want to take that experience for granted. We’ll be ready to answer the bell next year.”
Bueckers, who led Hopkins with 19 points in the title game, said, “We never stopped fighting. The shots were just dropping for Elk River.”
“We had hope through the whole game,” said Hammond. “This makes us even hungrier for next year.”
Sophomore guard Dlayla Chakolis, who was second in scoring for the Royals with 13 points, will be back along with Bueckers, Hammond and junior guard Raena Suggs. Hammond and Suggs each scored 12 points in the state title game.
Gabi Haack, a senior guard, led the Elks’ effort in the finals with 25 points, while Lachmiller added 17.
In the press conference after the game, Lachmiller described her tournament experience as “pure joy.”
For Hopkins, it was the second state runner-up finish in a row. Maybe next year, it will be the Royals’ turn.
Contact John Sherman at [email protected]