GIRLS BASKETBALL: Fosston halts Cass Lake-Bena's section 3-peat bid in semifinal round
The Cass Lake-Bena girls basketball team saw its season end in the Section 8A semifinals on Tuesday at the Ralph Engelstad Arena.
THIEF RIVER FALLS – The Cass Lake-Bena girls basketball team had grown accustomed to walking out of the Ralph Engelstad Arena in Thief River Falls wearing the blue first-place ribbons over the last two seasons. However, the Panthers' youthfulness got the better of them on Tuesday.
Second-seeded Fosston ended fourth-seeded Cass Lake-Bena's season in the Section 8A East title game. The Greyhounds' 14-point victory ensured there will be a new 8A representative at the Minnesota State Girls Basketball Tournament this March for the first time since 2020.
Fosston (24-3) took a double-digit lead before the Panthers could blink. Kinsley Duppong, Lexi Mahlen and Katlyen Vesledahl combined to score the first 20 points. The Greyhounds extended their margin to 35-14 at halftime.
"We had a plan, but we just didn't do it right away like we wanted to," Cass Lake-Bena head coach Martin Wind said. "We wanted to trap them, and we didn't do that until they already had nine points on us. We have a young group. We have a seventh-grader and an eighth-grader in our starting lineup. I think there was some miscommunication at the start, and (Fosston) moved the ball really well. They're big, and they're well-coached."
Cass Lake-Bena (17-12) found another gear offensively to start the second half. Gabby Fineday hit a mid-range jumper and a pair of free throws. Anika Wind knocked down a 3-pointer to highlight a 7-2 run.
Fineday and Alexiah LaRose hit 3-pointers on back-to-back possessions, cutting the Panthers' deficit to 37-27 with 13:23 left, though it wasn't enough to jolt a more significant comeback push. Fosston's post presence was too much for Cass Lake-Bena to handle for 36 minutes.
"We guarded (Fosston's) two best players in that zone, and I told the girls that we have to be the ones to move the ball around better," Wind said. "We have to be the ones taking good shots. That's what we did. We pushed the ball up the court there a couple of times and got some wide-open looks. We knocked a few in, but just a couple of them didn't roll in at the end there. That's what kind of hurt us today."
Vesledahl had a game-high 20 points for Fosston. Duppong, who crossed the 1,000-point milestone on Tuesday, followed with 13 points. Lexi Mahlen added 11 in support.
"They were patient," Wind said of Fosston. "They took their open shots, and I think we rushed a lot of shots. Other than that, I think we played really good in the second half. We brought it back to (nine) points at one point. Our girls battled, and that's all I can ask for."
Fineday led the Panthers with 18 points, followed by LaRose with 15. Cass Lake-Bena graduates only two seniors – Patricia Ortiz and Mataya Mitchell.
The Panthers' bid for a third straight Section 8A championship fell short, but it didn't come without some postseason magic. Cass Lake–Bena beat the East's top seed, Northome/Kelliher, 55-50 in the subsection semifinals on Saturday. Although Tuesday's loss snapped the Panthers' five-game winning streak at the REA, Wind hopes this playoff exit ultimately turns into a lesson.
"This was a really good experience for them," Wind said. "This subsection championship game was a good experience. There are a lot of people around the state that didn't think we'd be here. We were here today, and we battled. I think they'll take a lot from this game. They don't want to stand there and take the second-place trophy again. I think we have a good chance to improve next year."
Fosston 53, Cass Lake-Bena 39
CLB 14 25 – 39
FOS 33 20 – 53
CASS LAKE-BENA – Fineday 18, LaRose 15, Wind 3, Mitchell 1, Wind 1, Graves-Desjarlait 1.
FOSSTON – Vesledahl 20, Duppong 13, Mahlen 11, Manecke 5, Mahlen 4.