St. Croix Lutheran coach Dave Mielke had been stashing an inbounds play in his back pocket, knowing his team might need it down the line. He saved it for just the right time.
Trailing by one in overtime against Como Park in the Class 3A, Section 3 championship game, all five Crusaders on the court lined up out-of-bounds on the baseline. Forward Luci Hauge inbounded the ball while everyone else dispersed.
Crossing half-court wide open was guard Kenna Moon, and Hauge threw a football-style pass that Moon caught before making a go-ahead layup. Moon was fouled and hit a free throw to put the Crusaders ahead by two with three seconds to play.
“It’s called a touchdown,” Mielke said. “We ran it to perfection. We’ve been practicing that … figuring we were gonna wait till the end of the year to use it. And we needed it.”
A steal sealed the 68-66 overtime win for the seventh-ranked team in Class 3A, sending the Crusaders to the state tournament for the first time in program history.
“To be that team as seniors, it’s really surreal,” said Moon, one of four seniors on the team along with Hauge, Juel Skrien and Kendra Valleau.
Hauge, Moon and Skrien led the way for the Crusaders (14-5). Hauge scored a team-high 22 points and added seven rebounds, Moon contributed 14 points, six rebounds and four assists, and Skrien scored 13 points. Each saw their name called in a key moment. One of those moments was when Hauge hit a layup that sent the game to overtime tied 57-57.
The Crusaders were up by as many as 10 points in the second half, but the Cougars junior duo of Ronnie Porter and Jada James nearly put together an upset victory. Despite facing foul trouble, James finished with 25 points and seven rebounds.
Porter did a little bit of everything for the Cougars (12-1). She finished with 15 points, eight assists, seven rebounds and three steals, but was held short of her 25 point per game season average. Porter scored 28 points in last year’s 62-58 section semifinal victory over the Crusaders, and Mielke said the goal was to force anyone else to beat them.
Porter nearly beat the Crusaders again. She created plays for James and was a 4 for 4 from the free-throw line in overtime; her second pair of free throws put the Cougars up 63-62 with 52 seconds remaining. But Skrien put the Crusaders back on top, drilling a 3-pointer from the left corner.
“When I got it in my hands, I knew it felt right where my thumb was, and I knew it would go in,” Skrien said. “I started running back before it went in and I just felt so confident.”
Now, for the first time in program history the Cougars await their state tournament matchup.
“It’s a monkey off the back of this program. The girls are phenomenal,” Mielke said. “The girls just don’t quit, and they just keep pushing and pushing. … So it’s all the girls.”