There’s been one big change, literally, since Thompson edged Grafton 49-46 in the Region 2 girls high school basketball tournament championship game last season.
The Spoilers return four starters from that team. The newcomer is 6-foot-3 freshman Walker Demers, who will be in the post when Grafton and Thompson again play with a berth in the Class B state tournament on the line.
The Spoilers and Tommies play in the regional title game at approximately 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 27, at Betty Engelstad Sioux Center.
“Both teams brought back some talent and experience from last year,’’ Thompson coach Jason Brend said. “But they graduated one starter and filled the spot with a talented 6-3 kid. That’s a big difference.
“Coming into the year, Grafton was the favorite in the region. The have great shooters, great size, they defend well and their depth is off the charts.’’
The final Class B poll said Grafton is the favorite. The Spoilers are ranked fourth and Thompson ninth.
Thompson is the veteran in this position. The Tommies are in the regional championship game for the eighth straight season. They’ve won five of the previous seven regionals, including the last two.
“They have such a solid program,’’ Grafton coach Laurie Sieben said. “Their experience factor is huge. That’s a strength for them.’’
In Tuesday’s semifinals:
Grafton 78, Cavalier 41
What the defense started for Grafton, the offense finished.
The Spoilers’ aggressive defense forced Cavalier into committing 25 turnovers. Grafton converted those turnover possessions into 39 points.
That included 16 turnover points in the first quarter as Grafton got off to a 24-3 lead after the opening eight minutes. The Spoilers led comfortably the rest of the way.
Cavalier didn’t make its first field goal until 1:32 into the second quarter.
“We challenge this group to contest shots,’’ Laurie Sieben said. “The emphasis is to put pressure on teams.
’“We’re not always able to rely on (points off turnovers). But we can build off that.’’
The Spoilers shot 54 percent from the field (30-of-56). Through the first three quarters, they committed just two turnovers. They ended with eight.
“I was hoping they wouldn’t shoot as well as they did,’’ Cavalier coach Sandy Laxdal said. “We wanted to hold them to one shot and hit the boards. But they kept hitting (the first shot of possessions). Their defense is underrated.’’
Carlee Sieben scored 24 points and Julia Dusek had 16 to lead Grafton (20-3).
Charlee Krieg and Madysen Nordstrom each scored 12 for Cavalier (13-11).
For three quarters, Kenzie Hughes put the Thompson offense on her back.
When the rest of the offense got going, Thompson pulled away. Thompson outscored Midway-Minto 20-4 in the final quarter to claim the win.
Hughes scored 36 points, including 27 of the Tommies’ 37 points through three quarters. But five players contributed points in the fourth quarter for Thompson.
Hughes hit a long 3-pointer at the buzzer to pull Thompson within 38-37 going into the fourth.
“Maybe the key shot was the buzzer beater that gave us some momentum,’’ Brend said.
The Tommies took the lead when Macy Jordheim converted an offensive rebound 21 seconds into the final quarter. Then it was Cayla Herbert scoring inside, Jordheim hitting two free throws and Lauren Cunningham making a trey.
After a Hughes 3-point play, Cunningham added a layup and Hughes hit two free throws to extend Thompson’s run to 19 unanswered points.
“We told the girls going into the fourth quarter that we can’t win on a one-player show,’’ Brend said. “The other girls met the challenge. That was huge. If we didn’t have that balance (at the end), it could be a different outcome.’’
Jordheim had a double double with 10 points and 12 rebounds.
“We went into the game with one goal -- try to stop Kenzie,’’ M-M coach Todd Burianek said. “Needless to say, we did not achieve that goal.’’
Elizabeth Schanilec scored 14 points and April Schmitz 13 to lead Midway-Minto (16-7).