MINNEAPOLIS — No. 3-seeded Henning held off Fillmore Central, advancing to the semifinals of the Minnesota Class 1A girls state basketball tournament Thursday inside Maturi Pavilion.
After a slow start, the Hornets (29-2) found their groove, particularly from the 3-point line, to fuel a 69-56 win in the team’s first trip to the state tournament. Henning will play Cromwell-Wright at 2 p.m. Friday in the semifinals at Williams Arena in Minneapolis.
In a foul-filled first half, Fillmore Central took advantage of the free-throw line in the opening 10 minutes, scoring six of the first 10 points from the charity strike, and knocking down 10 free throws as a team in the first half.
The Hornets struggled initially with the 1-3-1 zone of the Falcons, turning it over and scoring just two field goals in the first five minutes.
Junior Megan Weber kept Henning within striking distance the whole first half, finding a hole in the zone defense in the corner behind the 3-point line.
“We’re fortunate we’ve seen the 1-3-1 quite a bit in the playoffs, and we’ve practiced against it quite a lot here,” Henning head coach Mike Hepola said.
After the Hornets took a timeout midway through the half, the surged for a 22-8 run. Weber connected on back-to-back 3-pointers to give Henning a 23-19 lead, the largest of the game up to that point.
“I absolutely love when teams play zone,” Weber said. “It’s a lot more open for us.”
Weber’s fourth 3-pointer with a minute left in the half, followed by a pair of free throws from Kylie Frederick, helped the Hornets secure a 32-21 lead at the half.
“I think my teammates helped. They stuck on them, and didn’t think I was going to be a threat,” said Weber, who tallied 14 points in that first half.
Kandace Sikkink’s nine points and seven rebounds pace Fillmore Central in the first 18 minutes.
The Hornets continued where they left off after halftime, building a 15-4 run in the first five minutes behind Weber and Ellie Dague, who hit back-to-back 3-pointers. Henning blew open the contest, taking a 47-25 lead with 12:54 left in regulation.
“I thought we were strong with the ball,” Hepola said. “We made the extra pass and when we had the opportunity to get into the seams, Ellie and the other girls forced the issue.”
Fillmore Central flipped the script from the first half, racking up eight team fouls in the first eight minutes, allowing Henning to keep the Falcons at bay from the free throw line where the Hornets went 23-for-38.
Fillmore Central (24-9) made one last attempt at a comeback, cutting the deficit to nine. The Falcons trailed 63-54 with 1:03 remaining.
A pair of layups from Faith Fisher and Autumn Grasswick, however, sealed the win for the Hornets, capturing the team’s first win in the state tournament.
Weber totaled 29 points and hit a career-high six 3-pointers to lead the Hornets. Kassidy Broadwater scored a game-high 30 points to lead the Falcons.
“It was a great atmosphere,” said Henning senior Ellie Dague said, who finished with 22 points and five rebounds. “Henning is a good place to play. Everyone is super involved, there’s a lot of school pride.”
The Henning boys basketball team was playing in their section championship game the same day, while the volleyball team also made a state tournament appearance in the fall.
“We played state volleyball, so I feel like that helped us a lot in terms of knowing what the nerves are,” Dague said, adding this win was extra motivation from the loss volleyball took. “It was a big reason for us to come out swinging.”
“We actually played them this summer. They’re a great team, they shoot the 3 well, and they have a lot of good players,” Hipola said.
Tipoff is set for 2 p.m. Friday at Williams Arena.