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GIRLS BASKETBALL: Win-E-Mac reaches Class A semifinals

Kasprzak: Win-E-Mac's Jessica Kasprzak (13) puts up a shot over Mountain Iron-Buhl's Chelsea Mason during the first half of Thursday's Class 1A state quarterfinal game at Mariucci Arena. The unseeded Patriots came away with a 73-62 victory over the No. 3-seeded Rangers. Photos by Joe Brown/Forum News Service1 / 2
Win-E-Mac's Korbyn Ross (right) gives chase to Mountain Iron-Buhl's Mya Buffetta during the second half of Thursday's Class 1A state quarterfinal game at Mariucci Arena. Photos by Joe Brown/Forum News Service2 / 2

MINNEAPOLIS — In a routine part of basketball like the free throw, Korbyn Ross has found her own niche.

While her opponents are worried about boxing out other post players in the lane, the Win-E-Mac senior is just as focused on getting her own rebound and converting a three-point swing.

“I personally just really believe in crashing the boards,” Ross said. “When I see that my form is off and the shot is going off, I’m going after (the ball) hard and usually it works.”

The first time Ross pulled it off came completely by accident.

“I accidently kept doing it and it kind of became my own little play that we kept working on,” she said, “and it seems to work, so I’ll keep going with it.”

After seeing a 14-point lead in the second half evaporate to a one-point edge against third-seeded Mountain Iron-Buhl, Ross converted one of her patented three-point plays at the line and helped bring the momentum back to the Patriots. Unseeded Win-E-Mac led by two possessions the rest of the way in a 65-58 victory in the Minnesota state Class A quarterfinals Thursday at Mariucci Arena.

With the victory, Win-E-Mac (29-2) will face unseeded Mankato Loyola in the semifinals today. The Crusaders advanced with a 93-91 overtime victory over No. 2 seed Maranatha Christian Academy.

Patriots’ head coach Ian Hanson admits the coaches have harped on Ross for focusing on rebounds instead of shots at the line, but he couldn’t dwell on it after the shift in his team’s favor.

“The girl that she got past kind of put her head down like, ‘Aw crap, I gave that one up,’” Hanson said. “It was a momentum-turner.”

The game looked like it would be a blowout in the Patriots’ favor early on as they built a 33-22 halftime lead.

“We needed a fast start and we didn’t get it,” Rangers’ head coach Jeff Buffetta said. “They dictated play early and that bothered us quite a bit.”

Over the first 18 minutes, Win-E-Mac drew 14 fouls and went to the line for 24 free-throw attempts, converting on 16 of those tries.

“One thing we noticed on film is they tend to get in foul trouble,” Hanson said. “They like to jump those passing lanes and reach for stuff, so we knew if we were aggressive and strong to the ball that we could exploit that.”

The Patriots got their biggest lead of the game, 52-38, after a jumper by Shelby Kaster with 10 minutes, 7 seconds left to go. Win-E-Mac managed to stay up by double digits for most of the second half before the 3-pointers started falling for Mountain Iron-Buhl.

Down by 12 with 6:40 remaining, the Rangers went on an 11-0 run, with a pair of 3-pointers from Allie Negen and a trey from Mya Buffetta that made it a one-point game, 58-57.

“It got to us a little bit because we had some pretty good leads in the game,” said Kaster, who led Win-E-Mac with 25 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks. “We just had to buckle down and get pressure back on them.”

Ross’ three-point swing gave the Patriots the lift they needed, and Win-E-Mac did not surrender another 3-pointer for the rest of the game. Ross finished with 10 points and 11 rebounds.

“They attempted something like 690 threes on the season, so we knew they were going to shoot them and they would make some,” Hanson said. “We told the girls to weather that storm, weather that little bit of a run. If we kept playing our style, we knew we would be all right.”

Madison McKeever had 15 points, seven assists, three blocks and four boards for the Patriots, and Alayna Espeseth chipped in with 11 points and six rebounds.

Mya Buffetta paced the Rangers with 21 points on 6 of 14 shooting, and Chelsea Mason had nine points and four steals. Mountain Iron-Buhl ends the year at 28-3 overall.

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