This has been nothing short of a dream season for the Sleepy Eye Indians girls basketball squad.
“This is something I have dreamed about my whole life, and now in my senior year it happened,” Senior Carissa Hillmer commented after the game.
“We’ve wanted this since 6th grade. We worked so hard for this. We’re the seventh seed and we’re going to state. It can’t get any better than that,” Senior Sydney Remus commented.
The lady Indians played arguably one of the most intense games of the season Friday night at Gustavus defeating the Springfield Tigers 53-48 and earning themselves a trip to the State Tournament; the first trip to the tournament for a girls team in Sleepy Eye history.
“We were definitely prepared for what Springfield was going to do defensively. The nice thing about the way our schedule was set up this year, was Springfield played every team we played the game before us. So if I was going to scout an opponent it was always against Springfield. They have played a triangle and two very successfully for the last month, so I was about 85% sure we were going to see it early in the game. Luckily we are not a team with just one or two scores. Jessica Busch and Justine Gonzalez put a quick end to the triangle and two by hitting shots when left open.” Head coach Ryan Hulke commented.
Springfield put the first points on the board early in half number one, but the Indians came right back adding a bucket to take a 2-1 lead. The Tigers and the Indians traded a few baskets, with Sleepy Eye coming out on top as Jessica Busch sank a three-pointer putting Sleepy Eye in front, 7-5, and gaining the team the momentum they needed to hold the lead throughout much of the first half.
Springfield battled back to knot things up at 19 a side with 5:13 to play in the first half, but Sleepy Eye repaid the favor when Claire Krumbach nailed a short jumper allowing the Indians to regain the lead for the remainder of the half. At halftime the score was 25-24 in favor of the Indians.
The second half was a battle to the finish and was the loudest I have heard the crowd at any high school contest to date. The atmosphere alone would make a team want to fight, and that’s what both sides did.
Springfield took momentum early on and took the lead early on. About four minutes in, the Tigers finally saw the score in their favor, going up by one, 28-27, yet it was short lived.
Sleepy Eye fought right back. Jessica Busch took a foul, made both shots putting the Indians back out front with 12:16 to play. Sleepy Eye was able to hold on to this lead until the final minutes of the contest.
The decibel level of the crowd on the Springfield side increased exponentially as the Tigers took a 41-40 lead with just 3:25 to go. Again, Sleepy Eye was determined to win this game.
Justine Gonzalez drew a foul and headed to the line. She sank both shots to tilt the score back to the Indians by one, at 42-41. Now it was the Sleepy Eye fans turn to get loud, and they did.
Sleepy Eye played a solid defensive game in the final three minutes of the contest to help protect their lead and put Springfield into a foul situation. Gonzalez sank a couple buckets, Busch continued her solid play and Carissa Hillmer was five for eight on free throws down the stretch to solidify the lead. By the 18 second mark, Sleepy Eye had made it a two possession game and just had to protect the ball, wait out the clock, hear the final buzzer and celebrate the trip to state, adding yet another level to the dream season.
“To hold a team like Springfield less than 50 points is really tough; they run about three different motion offenses, 7 sets, and 6 out of bounce plays. We were prepared for most of them and how we were going to cover them and the girls made minimal mistakes while defending those sets. This has been our biggest benefit throughout the playoffs. The girls have been at every practice mentally and they are seeing the advantage of knowing the other teams’ offenses and defenses.” Hulke concluded.
Jessica Busch, who had been hampered with an ankle injury and illness early on in the season, played one of her better games of the season and led the Indians scoring effort with 18 points, was seven for seven from the line and had four steals. Justine Gonzalez also had a solid night and put up 10. Sydney Remus and Claire Krumbach each added seven. Remus pulled in seven rebounds and Krumbach came down with nine. Carissa Hillmer put up five points.
Jessica Busch summed up the team’s feelings, “This has been our goal since day one and we finally got it. It feels really good to be going to state.”
The Indians now 19-10, head to the state tournament in Minneapolis. Their first game is against the 29-1 Mt. Iron-Buhl on Thursday, March 15 at 11 a.m. at Williams Arena on the campus of the University of Minnesota.