CROOKSTON-On Thursday morning, Kaitlyn Kotlowski was named one of the five finalists for the Ms. Hockey Award, given to the outstanding senior girls high school hockey player in Minnesota.

On Thursday night, Kotlowski and her Warroad teammates got something even better-a return trip to the Minnesota Class A state high school hockey tournament. The top-seeded Warriors beat Thief River Falls 4-1 in the Section 8A tournament championship to earn a berth in next week's state tournament.

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"It's a big accomplishment,'' Kotlowski said of being a Ms. Hockey finalist. "But this is better. We did this together, as a team.''

The Warriors, ranked first in the latest Class A state poll, received goals from Marlie Johnston, Hannah Corneliusen, Kotlowski and Genevieve Hendrickson.

Johnston broke a scoreless tie 52 seconds into the second period. Madison Lavergne had the puck behind the net and made a pinpoint pass to Johnston who was skating to the net and the junior buried the shot.

"I think it settled us down,'' Johnston said. "It was like the icebreaker. The floodgates opened after that. We had a lot of chances in the first period and things weren't going in for us.''

Corneliusen's goal came just 3:45 later for a 2-0 lead.

"We were a little frustrated with the first period,'' Kotlowski said. "We felt we could do better. We came out hard in the second. We got two goals early and that built our confidence.''

Said Warroad coach David Marvin: "It's always good to get the first one. That was big. The longer the game goes scoreless, the better it is for them, the better it is for the underdog. And you like to keep pounding, to get more.''

Warroad was up 4-0 before Thief River Falls scored at the 11:52 mark of the third on a Khloe Lund goal.

"I don't know if we came out flat in the first five minutes of the second, or if they came out with more intensity,'' Prowlers coach Brett Johnson said. "We got away from our game plan and they found ways to put it in the net. That (2-0 deficit) was huge.''

Faith Porter had 34 saves for the Prowlers. Quinn Kuntz had 23 saves for Warroad, shutting down the Prowlers when they had a 5-on-3 advantage in the first period.

"Quinn was really good when they had a 5-on-3,'' Marvin said. "If they get one there things might go differently. But she's so good in those tough situations.''

The section title is the third straight and the 10th in the past 14 seasons for the 26-0-1 Warriors. Thief River Falls, the 8A second seed, closed at 16-10-0.