CHANHASSEN — Lake City’s first trip to state in more than 35 years took a sour turn Tuesday night as the Tigers were matched up with No. 1-ranked New London-Spicer in the Class AA quarterfinals of the Minnesota State High School League girls’ basketball tournament. The Wildcats lived up to their ranking as Lake City surrendered the most points it had all season long in the 78-49 loss.
In Lake City’s previous six games, only one of its opponents managed to score more than 49 points. New London-Spicer put that many on the scoreboard in just the first half as Emma Hansen and Mackenzie Rich shot lights out from beyond the arc. By the end of the half, the Wildcats buried 13 3-pointers, one fewer than Lake City had total points as the Tigers entered halftime down 49-14.
“We knew that they could shoot the three and also had a strong post,” Lake City head girls’ basketball coach Clay Olstad said. “I think the one thing that threw us off guard was we didn't expect them to make so many deep threes, like five feet behind the arc.”
The Wildcats were definitely hitting on all cylinders from range. During one stretch in the first half, they hit 6-of-7 3-pointers — four of them consecutively. Compounding the issue for Lake City was that its offense couldn’t find a way to get a basket whether it was for two or three points.
By the time New London-Spicer had built a 37-10 lead 14 minutes into the first half, Lake City was shooting 20% from the field. The Tigers’ two leading scorers for much of the season combined for just two points. Natalie Bremer was shut out in the first half, while Lilly Meincke managed one bucket.
“We came out flat in that first half, but I thought the second half we played better,” Olstad said. “We talked at halftime, just one one play at a time. We want to just chip away at it and know you're not gonna get it all back in one possession.”
The second half did go much better for Lake City as it actually held a 35-24 points advantage, but the deficit was just too large to overcome. Right out of the gates Lake City made clear that it was not going to leave quietly as both its offense and defense ratcheted up the intensity.
The defense gambled more than it had in the first half with pressure all the way up the court on each possession. Offensively, ball movement was much quicker and cleaner as cuts into the post were beginning to connect with passes for easier buckets.
The spark that lit it all came from Bremer’s first two baskets of the game. Lake City opened the half on a 17-11 run, during which New London-Spicer hit only two 3-pointers. Coincidentally, those were the only two 3-pointers the Wildcats hit in the second half.
The problem for Lake City was that even after a strong start the second half, it was still down by 30 points. Over the course of the next four minutes, the two teams traded baskets and the gap remained at 30 points with five minutes remaining in the half. Lake City did chip away to knock the deficit down to 21 points but after reserves flooded in for the final two minutes of action, the Wildcats built its lead back up.
After combining for just two points in the first half, Bremer and Meincke teamed up for 20 points in the second half. Bremer finished the game as Lake City’s top scorer with 15 points, followed by Grace Bany (13), Meincke (11), Mya Shones (4), Jacey Majerus (2), Hailey Reckmann (2) and Ella Matzke (1).
The loss ends Lake City’s season with a 19-4 record and will undoubtedly leave a sour taste in their mouth throughout the offseason. Olstad was quick to point out though that the achievements this group made this season shouldn’t be taken for granted and the trajectory of the squad still points upward.
“They've made some huge accomplishments that our Lake City program hasn’t done in a long, long time,” he said. “There’s a lot of milestones for what they’ve done as a team this year.
“Our one senior, Grace Bany, we’re going to miss her. She’s a defensive presence, she affects a lot of shots on the defensive end. But it’s good for everyone to get a taste here and stay hungry in the offseason. We have a tough section so it’s going to be another tough run next year but hopefully we can get back.”