The Newell-Fonda girls basketball team had not lost a game at the state tournament since the 2018 state championship game. That changed when they matched up with MMCRU in this year’s state semifinals.
The final score of 66-62 propelled MMCRU into tomorrow night’s state championship game against Bishop Garrigan. The win was as shocking for everyone in the arena as it was for senior forward Ellie Hilbrands.
Head Coach Gillian Letsche says her team understood its role of the underdog in the matchup with Newell-Fonda. That did not mean they had to accept it themselves.
The win was obviously special for a number of reasons. The win was Coach Letsche’s 100th career win as the head coach of the Royals. The bond Coach Letsche has with her team is special.
The matchup for MMCRU was tough for a number of reasons. On the defensive end, the Royals matched up with a Newell-Fonda offense that averaged well over 70 points per game and shot 50% from the field. The key for senior Taylor Harpenau and company was to get back and focus on stopping the ball handler for Newell-Fonda.
The Mustang defense is nothing to sniff at either. The Mustangs forced their first opponent in Des Moines to commit 40 turnovers. The Royals seemed like they might fall victim to that same fate after turning the ball over 12 times in the first half. That wouldn’t be the case. The Royals turned the ball over just four times the entire second half. Coach Letsche says it took determination for her team to make that happen.
Harpenau says that the Royals met their goal in staying under 20 turnovers.
The top scorer on the day for the Royals was Ellie Hilbrands. The post seemed to get lost behind the Newell-Fonda defense on a number of occasions and she made them pay for it. The senior scored 22 points on 7-14 from the field. Hilbrands says she could feel her offense click in warmups.
Another key contributor on offense was the play of junior guard Kora Alesch. She came up big with her ball handling around the Newell-Fonda defense and hitting 6-10 free throws late to seal the win. Coach Letsche says that her ball-handling comes in handy on numerous occasions.
The goal now for Coach Letsche and her staff is to gameplan for their next opponent in Bishop Garrigan. Letsche says the goal for her team now is to rest.
The Royals will take a 25-1 record into the state championship game at 7:00 on Saturday. You can listen to the game on KLEM Radio with pregame starting at 6:45.
The Mustang season comes to an end short of the state championship game with a 24-2 record.