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Sure fun while it lasted

Packers get off to

fast start, but still

fall to DeLaSalle

By Scott A. Kolb

skolb@postbulletin.com

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MINNEAPOLIS — An early lead for the Austin girls didn’t withstand the pressure of playing No. 1 ranked Minneapolis DeLaSalle and the basketball season came to an end in the quarterfinals of the Class AAA state tournament.

Although their season is now over after a 51-38 loss on Wednesday night, the Austin Packers gave the DeLaSalle Islanders a scare in the opening minutes. The Islanders weren’t prepared for the tenacious fullcourt press of the Packers and the early moments were a shocker to the crowd at Target Center.

The Packers jumped out to a 9-0 lead in the opening three minutes and initially, this game had all the makings of a huge upset. The Packers press created a half-dozen turnovers and the Islanders had only one shot attempt in the first three minutes of the game.

Tina Vorpahl scored the first basket at 35 seconds into the quarterfinals contest, and the eighth-seeded Packers didn’t appear to have any jitters on the home floor of the Minnesota Timberwolves.

After a DeLaSalle turnover, Brittney Gibson scored for Austin. Vorpahl then converted a traditional three-point play. The hoop and free throw by Vorpahl made it 7-0 with 15:29 left in the first half.

There was more excitement to come for the large contingent of Austin fans on hand in the big city. Gibson scored on a lob pass off an in-bounds play and the Packers had the top-ranked team in the state in a deep hole.

"We went in knowing we had to take it to them hard and they underestimated our press," Packers forward Jenni Fisher said. "We played great defense at the start and that kept us in the game."

Islanders rally

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The fun didn’t last long for the Packers as the Islanders showed why they were the top seeds in the tournament. Anna Kovalchuk hit the first field goal of the night for the Islanders and it was a 3-pointer. DeLaSalle would make six treys in the first half.

In rapid succession, the Islanders started bombing in long balls and their deficit was quickly erased. Still, the Packers showed some grit and they stayed in the hunt.

Hanna Middlebrook hit one of two free throws to break a 9-9 tie and give the Packers their last lead of the night. The free throw by Middlebrook came with 10:16 left in the half, and she would also score the next point for the Packers but it came nearly six minutes later.

Despite shooting only 24-percent from the field in the first half, the Packers stayed close with their defense. After a defensive stop, Fisher finally ended an 11-minute field goal drought for the Packers with a trey. A short time later, Vorpahl added a free throw to close the deficit to 20-15 with 3:31 left in the half.

The Islanders (28-1) kept bombing from beyond the arc and the Packers couldn’t catch them. Another outside shot pushed the lead back to eight points. Tana Lukes then made a steal and took it the other way for steal. This closed the Packers deficit to 23-17, but the Islanders scored the last five points of the first half.

"They hit some big 3-pointers in the first half, but we hung in there and the kids still played good defense," Austin coach Gary Peterson said. "Once we got down, then we couldn’t make up that 10-point deficit. After the fast start, we just didn’t shoot very well and missed some free throws near the end of the half."

At this point, skeptics had to figure the Packers were done. The statistics were mostly negative in the first half, and the Islanders were on fire from downtown as they went 6-for-10 from the arc. Still, the Packers didn’t quit and they made some inroads on their deficit in the initial stages of the second half.

Seniors finish strong

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Fisher scored on the first possession of the second half and the margin was back under double-digits. Kovalchuk then hit the only 3-pointer of the second half for the Islanders. Fisher countered with the last of her seven points. A few minutes later, Kathryn Gavin made a free throw to again bring it back to nine points.

"Even though it was a loss, we still played a great game," Fisher said about the culmination to her senior season. "Making it to state was one of our goals and we had a good game. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity for the seniors and it was cool to play on the big floor at Target Center."

Lukes, Gibson, and Carolyn Molhusen are the other Austin seniors who got to play their last game at the big dance. They all scored in their appearance at the big arena, and Molhusen battled hard inside with three rebounds. In the end, the Islanders simply had too many weapons and the Packers didn’t have enough offense to pull off the upset.

Gibson hit a basket to bring the Packers to within 35-26 with eight minutes left, but they would get no closer. The lead went back to double-digits on the next possession and it stayed there the rest of the way.

"The girls gave it all they had and played hard right to the end," Peterson said in summation. "We stopped their inside game, but they just made too many threes in the first half. We played right with the top-ranked team in the state, and the kids can be proud of their accomplishment."

Austin finished the season with a 20-8 overall record. This was the second state tournament appearance for the Austin girls in the last four years.

DELASALLE 51, AUSTIN 38

AUSTIN (38)

Tana Lukes 2, Hanna Middlebrook 4, Brittney Gibson 8, Tina Vorpahl 10, Krista Viehauser 2, Jenni Fisher 7, Kathryn Gavin 3, Rebekah Aase 0, Carolyn Molhusen 2.

MPLS. DELASALLE (51)

Anna Kovalchuk 8, Aaryn Booker 8, Akilah Hudnell 6, Tori Rule 9, Frances Wehrwein 7, Alex Bledsoe 1, Chelsey Jacox 0, Carissa Wolyniec 10, Jamelia Hudnell 0, Michelle Harris 2.

Halftime — DeLaSalle 28, Austin 17.

Three-pointers — Austin 1-13 (Fisher 1). DeLaSalle 7-15 (Kovalchuk 2, A.Hudnell 2, Wolyniec 2, Wehrwein 1).

Free throws — Austin 7-17, DeLaSalle 10-22.

Rebounds — Austin 31 (Fisher 6); DeLaSalle 32 (Booker 8).

Turnovers — Austin 23, DeLaSalle 25.

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