'Underdawgs': WDC girls keep Cinderella story alive, knock off No. 2 Thief River Falls
The No. 11 Wadena-Deer Creek girls basketball team punched its ticket to the Section 8AA finals after its win over No. 2 Thief River Falls on Wednesday night.
DETROIT LAKES – When March rolls around that means tournament time and everyone looks for the next Cinderella story. The Wadena-Deer Creek girls basketball have written one of their own after its upset victory over No. 2 Thief River Falls in the Section 8AA semifinals on March 9.
The Wolverines took down the Prowlers 51-44 for their third straight upset victory in the section tournament and a chance to compete in the section finals.
“What a game and what a battle,” Wadena-Deer Creek head coach Jordan Cresap said. “The first thought that comes to mind is a lot of adversity in that second half. We were down seven late in the second but we looked inside of ourselves and said ‘why not us?’”
Cresap reflected on some of the season's struggles that prepared his team for moments like this.
“We lost 11 games in the regular season and went on a stretch where we have lost three in a row. We have been through those tough times. That doesn't make us weaker but it definitely made us stronger. At that moment, being down seven with nine or 10 minutes to go, all you have is a belief in yourself and each other and the girls came through in the end.”
Senior guard Madison Carsten thought her team’s defense was one of the biggest reasons for the late-game heroics.
“I think we really came out hard on defense and stuck to our gameplan,” she said. “We hit some shots when we needed it, which gave us our momentum back to stick it to them the rest of the game.”
The first half was a low-scoring affair. The two teams went into the locker room with the Wolverines in control at 16-13.
After trading the first few buckets to start the second half, Thief River Falls went on an 11-0 run to grab its first lead of that game at 29-22. Around the ten-minute mark, Thief River Falls’ Avah Waldal took a defensive rebound coast-to-coast for a Prowlers layup to go up 31-24.
The Wolverines scored four unanswered before Waldal failed to complete the 3-point play. Thief River Falls found itself up 33-28 with seven and a half minutes left in regulation.
Down 36-30, WDC’s Montana Carsten caught fire as she went on to knock down three straight 3-pointers followed by a Peyton Gravelle putback to complete a 3-point play. WDC took the lead at 42-38 with about three minutes left in the game. The Wolverines outscored the Prowlers 9-6 and knocked in 8-of-12 free throws to close things out.
“The biggest turning point was Montana Carsten hitting those threes,” Cresap said. “I don’t think she hit any in the first half, but she is a shooter who believes in herself. She kept letting it fly and finally found some success in a crucial moment. Those threes propelled us. Then we had an offensive rebound and putback from Peyton Gravelle, another spark to finish the game.”
Gravelleis the Wolverines’ starting center as an eighth grader. Cresap praised his young center for her physical play which has helped the undersized Wolverines all season long.
“We are not the biggest team overall but all five players on the floor were scrapping around,” he said. “Peyton had the big offensive board and putback which was huge. That has kind of been her M.O. all year and we appreciate her efforts game in and game out.”
Madison finished the game with a game-high 14 points. Peyton finished with 13 points and Montana ended her night with 12.
In WDC’s unbelievable section tournament run, the Wolverines have been motivated by those who have counted them out in the last three games.
“It has definitely been challenging with our section being so tough,” Madison said. “We have given ourselves the title of “the underdawgs”, which has helped to relieve some of the pressure off our shoulders. We have been able to go out there and just play our game.”
And all it took was getting that first win against Hawley to change the mindset of the Wolverines.
“It has been the belief in ourselves,” Madison said. “After that first playoff win against Hawley, we got our confidence back in ourselves and figured if we can upset one team, we can upset another. That mindset has kept us going.”
Cresap was all smiles looking back at what his team has done over the past week.
“It has been incredibly fun and a historical run for us,” he said. “I couldn’t even tell you the last time Wadena-Deer Creek was in a section finals. We have a great group of kids who do the right things on and off the court. That's always been a blessing whether we win or lose. To finally put some playoff wins together and to see the girls celebrate, it's been really cool.”
The Wolverines are one game away from the state tournament. WDC hasn’t been to state since 1980. The only team that stands in their way is No. 1 Perham.
“It awesome to have an opportunity to get down to the state tournament,” Cresap said. “First, we have a tough opponent ahead of us in the section finals. Perham can beat you in a variety of ways. We are a team that believes in what we are doing and each other, and that is dangerous against anybody.”
WDC 16 35- 51
TRF 13 31- 55
WADENA-DEER CREEK SCORING- Addyson Gravelle 9, Montana Carsten 12, Ally Pavek 3, Madison Carsten 14, Peyton Gravelle 13
THIEF RIVER FALL SCORING- Ali Yuska 2, Kendra Mehrkens 1, Maren Espe 9, Kendal Rantanen 11, Avah Waldal 12, Breanna Myers 9