Coleman hits clutch free throws for the win
On Friday night the sixth-seeded North Branch girls basketball team hit the road to face third-seeded Princeton in the first round of the Section 7AAA tournament and came away victorious.
After a back-and-forth battle through much of the first half, the Vikings pulled ahead, 33-28, just before halftime when sophomore Morgen Coleman drained a 3-pointer, followed by two free throws from junior Taylor Gazda. Coleman recorded 12 points in the first half, while Gazda contributed 10.
Sophomore Courtney Selbitschka kept the pressure on the Tigers by attacking the lane and helping North Branch to extend its lead to 56-48 with her second 3-pointer of the game. But a Princeton fast break, free throws and turnaround jumper evened the score at 60 a few minutes later.
With just minutes remaining, Coleman made one of two shots from the charity stripe to put North Branch up 61-60. The Tigers put three more on the board to lead, 63-61, before senior Haley Huset found the bottom of the net from 3-point land to push the Vikings ahead by one, 64-63.
Tiger junior Haley Sandin made one of two free throws to even the score again, this time at 64 with 36.6 seconds remaining.
North Branch wound down the clock until Coleman made her move. The guard drove the lane and collided with a defender, drawing a blocking call and putting Coleman on the line with 2.1 seconds remaining. Coleman drained both, giving the Vikings a 66-64 win and propelling her team to the Section 7AAA semifinals against top-seeded Grand Rapids on Wednesday.
Coleman said she was prepared for the nerve-wracking, go-ahead points.
“I definitely have mentally practiced making game-winning free throws,” she said. “That’s the reason I play basketball … those moments right there – to be on the line where you can win it for your team and know that you have to make it. Those are why I play basketball and why I play sports. I love that feeling and that pressure that pushes me to be better. It was great.”
Head coach Jerome Huselid said it was good to see his team finish for the win against the Tigers.
“We were evenly matched with Princeton,” Huselid said. “We have good guards; they have good guards. All three games between us this season were just battles. The first time we lost to them was when we had the lead before losing in overtime. I told the girls, ‘We’re going to learn from that.’ Then we won here in Princeton near the end of the regular season, coming back to win on the road. Tonight, we talked about stopping Princeton’s No. 4 (Haley Sandin), and the girls did a great job stopping her driving abilities. We rebounded so much better tonight, too.”
The Vikings next face Grand Rapids at 7:45 p.m. Wednesday, March 12, at Duluth Denfeld.
North Branch last faced the Thunderhawks in early January, falling by 11 points on the Vikings’ home court, as well as losing to them, 67-61, in the section semifinals last season.
Huselid said he is anticipating another game against Grand Rapids.
“We saw them during the year,” he said. “We played them very well for a half, then things kind of came unraveled in the second half. They are a team we definitely can beat. We’re very excited to play them again.”