Chatfield, Z-M clash for elusive trip to state
Two girls basketball programs which aren’t exactly familiar with the Minnesota state tournament will be playing for that elusive opportunity when Chatfield and Zumbrota-Mazeppa tangle in the Section One, Class AA championship game.
Chatfield (21-7) is aiming for its second trip to state, and first in 15 years, and Zumbrota-Mazeppa (16-11) hopes to qualify for the first time ever when the teams clash at 8 p.m. Thursday at Mayo Civic Center Arena.
It’s not the section final matchup that many would have predicted in December, when Chatfield got off to a pedestrian 5-4 start, and Z-M struggled out of the gate at 2-6.
Chatfield has won 10 of its last 11 games, with a harrowing 41-40 win over defending section champion Caledonia in the 1AA East subsection final. Z-M was the No. 4 seed in 1AA West but took out top seed Pine Island in the semis and No. 2 Stewartville in the final to extend its winning streak to six.
Z-M’s last setback was a 61-57 loss to Chatfield in a Feb. 6 non-conference game at Chatfield. That’s a lot more points than Chatfield is accustomed to allowing. The Gophers’ defensive average of 44 points per game is the lowest in the 16-team section.
"Our defense will be the number one key for us," said Chatfield coach Brian Baum, who guided the Gophers to their only previous state tournament in Class A in 1997, the first year of four-class basketball.
"We will need to be active out front, get out on their shooters, and body-up on the shot."
Baum said one key will be finding a way to "contain" Z-M senior guard Ashley Hinsch, who starred with 23 points and 11 straight free throws in the second half in the section final win over Stewartville. The 5-foot-9 guard averages 15 points per game and enters this game needing just seven points to reach 1,000 for her career.
Meanwhile, Chatfield presents a tall challenge for Z-M, led by 6-foot-1 junior center Makenzie Miller, and 6-foot forward Traci McDonald. Miller averages 12.5 points per game and can be dominant as she was with 18 points on 9-of-10 shooting in the subsection semifinal win over Winona Cotter.
"Holding our own on the inside will be a big key," said Z-M coach Scott Paukert. "Their size is a concern, and we need to limit their ability to get offensive rebounds. Against their zone we need to move the ball well, and hit some outside shots."
Baum said that Z-M’s 5-10 junior center Amber Jentsch "really hurt" the Gophers in their first meeting with her strong rebounding at both ends. Paukert noted that Chatfield played that game without starting sophomore guard Sidney Irish.
Both coaches said their teams are healthy and at full strength. In fact, no Z-M player has missed a single game this season due to an injury or illness. That’s far different from last season when starters Hinsch (shoulder) and Laura Brunner (knee), a junior forward and second-leading scorer, were out for all or most of the year and Z-M finished 7-16.
"We are expecting an intense, hard fought game (which is) as it should be with the winner going to state being at stake," Baum said.