Top-seeded Minneota crushes CMCS, 72-35

MARSHALL – Judging by the score, the top-seeded Minneota Vikings cruised to a lopsided win over No. 5 seed Central Minnesota Christian in the semifinals of the Section 3A-North tournament Tuesday at Southwest Minnesota State University. But the 72-35 final doesn’t tell the whole story.

Yes, Class A’s fourth-ranked team dominated play. Yes, standout post player Taylor Reiss had another huge game, putting up 28 points and 10 rebounds. No, the game was never in doubt. Still, Minneota head coach Chad Johnston wasn’t exactly thrilled when speaking about the Vikings’ performance after the game.

The Vikings, who led 29-5 by halftime thanks to a lock-down defensive effort, had turnover issues in the first half against the CMCS press. They had shooting issues the whole game. Minneota got to the foul line on a regular basis, but only managed to make 17 of 34 attempts.

For a team that strives for excellence, knowing that’s what it takes to get to state, Tuesday’s performance was not what the Vikings were looking for.

“If you play enough games in the tournament, you always got to figure there’s going to be that one ugly one. We have to hope that this is it,” said Johnston, who’s team improves to 25-2 overall. “We have to hope this is the one that’s not our clean game. Does it need to be cleaner on Friday? Regardless of who we have, it needs to be cleaner on Friday, otherwise disappointment could set in real quick.”

The Vikings advance to play No. 2 seed Dawson-Boyd on Friday for the sub-section championship. The game, which will be the third meeting of the season between the two teams, will take place at 8 p.m. at the R/A Facility at SMSU. Minneota won both of the first two matchups with the Blackjacks by 15 points. CMCS ends its season with a 14-9 record.

Johnston called a timeout just four minutes into Tuesday’s game, his team up 8-3. The Vikings were making careless passes against the Bluejays press and had given up a wide-open backdoor layup to CMCS guard Jaclyn Swart. The players went back on the court and continued to have some struggles, prompting a full timeout by Johnston just four minutes later with Minneota leading 12-3.

Johnston said that the Bluejays’ did play tough defense, but he felt his players should have handled it better.

“CMCS put some pressure on us, and it’s easy for me to say that our guards are supposed to handle that because I’m sitting on the sideline,” Johnston said. “But I expect our girls to handle that, I expect that ball to get thrown up the court and there aren’t a lot of girls who can run with (Reiss). That’s our strong suit, that’s what we need to do and that’s one of the things that I thought we got away from. When we did it, we got a layup. When we didn’t do it, it usually resulted in a turnover. We need to find that consistency.”

While the Vikings’ offensive woes were frustrating their coach, there were no such struggles on the defensive end. Minneota held CMCS scoreless for a 10-minute stretch in a first half in which the Bluejays shot 2-for-18 from the field and committed 18 turnovers, mostly due to the Vikings’ tenacious full-court pressure.

In the second half, CMCS began to look more like a team that had won seven of its previous eight games. The Bluejays shook some of the tentativeness that was present in the first 18 minutes and scored 19 points to Minneota’s 21 over the the first nine minutes of action. Karisa Wubben hit a 3-pointer during the stretch and finished with a team-high 11 points.

But the lead was already too much to overcome, and Reiss was too dominant down low. She scored 20 points in the second half and controlled the boards.

Guards Emily Stienessen and Payton Boerboom joined Reiss in double figures for the Vikings, both scoring 10 points. Stienessen also had five rebounds, four assists and six of her team’s 25 steals in an all-around effort.

The Vikings made just one 3-point attempt in the game as they move from the small confines of Class A high school gyms to the wide-open R/A Facility with its much different sight lines. Johnston said the shooting has to get better for his team if it wants to advance beyond the next game.

“We didn’t shoot well from the 3-point line, which is going to happen occasionally, but we didn’t shoot well from the free throw line either, and that one has to be fixed,” he said.