The Rosemount Irish girls' basketball team may just be on one of the hottest winning-streaks in the state of Minnesota heading into the Section 3AAAA championship game on Wednesday, March 6, at Eastview. The Irish won their last eight games of the regular season and extended that winning streak to 10 games with their two section wins over Eagan and Apple Valley. The streak comes after a rough patch in January where Rosemount lost six of eight games, but that's behind them now as they face the familiar Lightning to go to state. This is the fourth time in five years the two teams have played in the section championship game and the Irish are coming off their first win over Eastview in over a decade.
Orr said the major problem in January was that the Irish just could not stay healthy and get over the hump to finish games.
"We were sitting 9-9 and we had some injuries off and on that kept people in and out of the lineup all year. We were always close and competitive in games, we just had a stretch here or there or just couldn't finish at the end," he said. "So then we got healthy after Shakopee, and ever since then we've had our top seven and our rotation and things just kind of clicked. We've made plays, we've played good team basketball and our defense has been outstanding and we've been able to finish games down the stretch now."
"Basically we beat every team that beat us the first time around, we beat them again. We were sitting 1-9 in the conference and we finished 9-9, so finishing out with eight-straight conference wins was huge," Orr said. "You could just see our confidence start to build and build every game, every day in practice."
During that stretch, Rosemount not only won eight-straight South Suburban Conference games, they beat some of the best teams in the state while doing it. They beat Eastview by 12 who finished the regular season ranked No. 5 in Class AAAA as well as Farmington by two the game after, who are ranked No. 7. Their last three wins all came on the road against Lakeville North (who plays Farmington in the 1AAAA championship), Burnsville and Apple Valley (who the Irish beat in the section semifinals).
The Irish beat No. 6 Eagan in the first round of sections by 16. Rosemount established 12 point advantage as they led the Wildcats 23-11 at halftime and then held on to win 49-33. Junior Taylor Janssen led the Irish in scoring with 12 points while fellow junior Larisa O'Neil added nine. Sophomore Ivory Finley scored eight points and sophomore Helen Staley and freshman Alexa Ratzlaff each contributed seven. Freshman Tayah Leenderts scored six points.
"Eagan, you look at their record with four wins, but they played us tough both games in the regular season and they're one of the hardest working teams there is and they execute very well," Orr said. "It's a grind it out game, we knew it was gonna be and we were able to get a lead early on and then keep that lead, and just keep them at bay."
They faced Apple Valley for the second time in a week during the section semifinals in Apple Valley and both games saw Rosemount win by two points.
"Going back, the girls believed they could beat them (Apple Valley) because we just did, but it definitely was not easy," Orr said. " We kind of felt like we were in control for most of the game and we had a lead most of the game, they made a couple runs and we were able to answer back both times and made just enough plays down the stretch and just enough free throws down the stretch to pull it off and hang on."
Ratzlaff led the Irish in scoring with 11 points while Janssen and Staley each had nine. O'Neil added six points and Finley and Leenderts both had five.
With a third game against Eastview looming (they split the two regular season matchups), Orr said that his team just needs to keep doing what they have been during their winning streak.
"During this whole stretch it's been taking care of the ball and rebounds, on the offensive glass and the defensive," he said. "Getting those extra possessions and preventing the other teams from getting those extra possessions have been our main two focuses and it's going to be no different on Wednesday."