State girls basketball: Chaska stuns Hopkins to end Royals’ 78-game winning streak in 4A finals

Chaska took on the ultimate challenge Wednesday night and stood up to it.

The Hawks upset Hopkins 67-62 in the Class 4A girls state tournament semifinals at Target Center, snapping the Royals’ 78-game winning streak.

That streak ends in a dead heat with Fosston for the state’s all-time record.

“The kids knew it’d be a total team effort, which is was,” Hawks coach Tara Seifert said. “And I said, ‘We’ve got nothing to lose. We’ve just got to play our hearts out and good things can happen.’”

Good things did happen. Chaska will play for its first state title Friday at 8 p.m. at Target Center.

Chaska went on a 14-0 run in the middle of the first half to go up 24-15. The Hawks led by seven at the break, then scored the first six points of the second half to build a 13-point lead and truly put the Royals on the ropes.

Hopkins responded the way you’d suspect any champion would, with a run. Star center Maya Nnaji got going for the Royals, who also cranked up the full-court pressure in an attempt to speed up the game. Chaska committed a few turnovers and momentum shifted.

An Amaya Battle jumper brought Hopkins to within one with 8 minutes, 40 seconds to play.

But Chaska never folded. Quite the opposite. Junior forward Mallory Heyer, a Gophers commit, scored a couple key buckets to re-extend the lead.

She was the rock all night for the Hawks, tallying 24 points and 13 rebounds. Kennedy Sanders was great, too, scoring 21.

“It was great resilience,” Seifert said. “We talked about how it’s a game of runs, we’ve got to keep battling, don’t be surprised if they make  run at us, just keep believing that we can finish out the game.”

Chaska went just 2 for 9 from on 3-pointers but won the game by getting good looks on the interior. Forty-six of the Hawks’ 67 points came in the paint.

Hopkins won the battle of the boards, committed fewer turnovers and made more free throws. When that’s the case, you expect to win, especially when you’re the Royals.

But Hopkins simply couldn’t find an offensive rhythm. The Royals shot just 36 percent from the field and only recorded assists on six of their 22 makes. Defensively is where Seifert has seen the greatest growth in her team since last season. It’s what Chaska has relied on all season. It was special Wednesday.

Seifert knew slowing down Hopkins would be a tall task, but her players answered the bell.

While it will be widely viewed as a massive upset that Hopkins, the No. 3 team in the country in MaxPreps’ national rankings and No. 1 according to ESPNW, went down short of the state final, that doesn’t give enough credit to Chaska.

The Hawks went undefeated this season and have played only three games, including Wednesday, decided by single digits. They beat previously unbeaten Stillwater by 18 in the state quarterfinals.

Seifert said her team talked plenty about how great Hopkins was and all of the Royals’ accolades. But the Hawks knew if they played their game, they’d have a chance.

No one can underestimate Chaska now.

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