State girls basketball: Becker wins Class 3A title

Becker finally climbed the last rung of the ladder Friday night.

The Bulldogs fell in the state title game in 2019. They made it back to the title game in 2020, only to have the game cancelled by COVID-19.

Finally given the chance to compete for that championship again Friday night, they didn’t let it slip through their grasp.

Redemption, finally, was theirs. Becker left little doubt Friday night — it is the best team in Class 3A.

The Bulldogs never trailed in the state final en route to a 70-58 win over previously unbeaten Marshall.

“Literally just dreams come true, and hard work paying off,” Becker senior guard Julia Bengtson said. “We’ve worked really hard, and that’s obviously been our motivation this past year, because of how things ended last year … and it paid off. It makes it even better just to win it with this group, because it’s such a group of hard workers and girls who care so much about each other and just love each other. They celebrate each other’s success.”

Leading 21-20, Becker closed the half on a 16-4 run to seize control of the contest. That lead ballooned to 16 early in the second half on a triple from Adeline Kent. Bengtson said the run was a product of Becker being the aggressor and using its offense to generate defense.

To Marshall’s credit, the Tigers fought back. Becker coach Dan Baird knew they would. He remembered the state quarterfinal classic between the two teams back in 2019. Both teams made major runs, and while Becker held a big league late, Marshall responded and the Bulldogs had to hit a shot at the buzzer to advance.

“We never felt comfortable in that game,” Baird said, “because we just know how tough they are and how much they’re going to battle.”

The Tigers made similar pushes Friday. They trimmed the Becker lead to single digits on multiple occasions, getting as close as six on an and-1 from Emily Meier with 8 minutes, 20 seconds to play.

But every Marshall (22-1) mini-run was met with a Becker answer, whether it be a key triple or a trip to the free-throw line. The Bulldogs (19-3) held a major advantage at the charity stripe, where they went 17 for 20.

“We’ve got a lot of small girls, but there are so many toughness aspects to basketball, and this team is just tough,” Baird said. “They may not go out there and bench 200 pounds, but they’re just a tough bunch of girls.”

Bengtson led the way for Becker. The Eastern Illinois commit finished with 20 points, six rebounds, three assists and two steals. She was one of four Bulldogs in double-figures scoring, joined by Kent, Maren Westin and Ayla Brown, who all scored 12 apiece, the latter two doing so off the bench.

The quartet of Abby Wendorff (18 points), Meier (15), Jordyn Hilgemann (15) and Brianna Simpson (10) did all the scoring for Marshall.

The title is the second in Becker’s program history, with the other coming in 2007. That this one was three years in the making made it all the sweeter when the clock finally expired and the horn sounded.

“It was like, ‘We literally did this! It’s actually true!’ ” Bengtson said. “It was a blast. Best moment ever.”

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