State girls basketball: Chaska tops Rosemount in thriller for Class 4A title

It was beautiful basketball.

On one end, Rosemount’s Helen Staley found teammate Tayah Leenderts for an open layup to tie the game at 43-43 with 12 seconds to play in the Class 4A title game at Target Center.

Rosemount’s bread and butter all season was a backdoor cut that led to easy buckets.

But this time, it was Chaska who executed the action. Three weeks ago, Hawks assistant coach Andy Cerisier installed a backdoor out-of-bounds action.

Chaska repped it in practice, but never used it. The plan was to wait until a bucket was needed. Tied in the closing moments of The state championship game? Yeah, now seemed like the opportune time to pull it out.

Gophers commit Mallory Heyer caught the ball around the free-throw line and hit Kaylee Van Eps for the go-ahead layup with fewer than six seconds to play.

“I’m just so proud of the girls with how they executed it,” Chaska head coach Tara Seifert said. “Great pass by Mallory, and then Van Eps finished it.”

Rosemount had time to get up one more shot. It had to go to Staley, the Oakland commit who dominated so many facets of the game. She finished with 17 points, nine rebounds and five assists.

The senior forward got a look up from NBA range at the horn to win the game — it was just left.

Chaska edged Rosemount 45-43 to win its first state title.

“She’s been around for six years, and a lot of heart ache, a lot of heart break, a lot of ups and downs,” Rosemount coach Chris Orr said. “She may not be our best shooter, but there’s probably no one else who I’d want the ball in their hands at the end of that game. … She was outstanding and she left it all out there, that’s for sure.”

Chaska has lost games in the past in such a fashion. Seifert recalls a section semifinal game against Minnetonka lost on a three-quarter court heave. But in the moment Friday, she trusted the Hawks’ defense. It’s what they’ve hung their hats on all season, so Seifert found it fitting to get one last key stop.

Just as it was fitting Van Eps scored the winning bucket.

“She has put her heart and soul into this program. I give her so much credit,” Seifert said. “She’s helped create this culture we have of working hard and leading by example. She’s an unselfish player. She’s a kid who will do anything you ask. It was phenomenal to have the opportunity to give her the ball at the end of the game to have the game winner. It’s how you want the story to end for her for her high school career.”

That game was how you’d want a high school basketball season to end — a classic defensive-minded duel to determine a championship.

Chaska (18-0) was the unbeaten giant slayer who knocked off previously unbeatens such as Stillwater and Hopkins to reach the final.

Rosemount (20-4) was the underdog no one expected to be there, who finally bested South Suburban Conference titan Farmington in the quarterfinals before edging Centennial in the semis. No one averaged more than 10 points a game for Rosemount — the consummate team.

The final was the type of of hard-fought battle that left players from both sides gasping for air in the closing minutes. Everything that was had on the court Friday night was earned.

Yes, the defense was tough. In that way, it was Rosemount’s game. The Irish hadn’t allowed a team to score more than 52 points in a game all season. Chaska had yet to score fewer than 60.

The halftime score was 19-14 Hawks. That played right into Rosemount’s hands. But the playmaking and shot scoring reached another level in the second half.

Both teams hit 45 percent of their shots. Chaska went 3 for 7 from deep, while Rosemount went 4 for 7. And yet most made shots still came over difficult contests.

High-level stuff from two championship-caliber teams.

“We had the pace of the game. We knew we needed to keep it low scoring, and credit to Chaska, they’re a heck of a team over there,” Orr said. “You can’t ask for much more in a state championship game, besides scoring three more points than we did.”

Van Eps had 11 for Chaska, joining two other Hawks in double figures, along with Kennedy Sanders (10) and Kelsey Willems (11). Someone finally held Chaska in check. In doing so, Rosemount proved it had fulfilled the prophecy Orr set forth for the Irish in the first practice of the season — that they could be the best defensive team in the state.

“They bought into the team,” Orr said. “They answered the bell day in and day out, and you can’t ask for much more than that as a coach.”

Seifert knew beating Rosemount would be “a grind” for that very reason. And her players took the challenge head on. For that reason, they’re champions.

“Just so proud of our kids to finish the game the way they did and just to keep believing,” Seifert said. “They were so driven to get this state championship.”

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