They say a state championship can’t be won in the summer. The Sleepy Eye girls basketball team would beg to differ.

They say a state championship can’t be won in the summer. The Sleepy Eye girls basketball team would beg to differ.

Throughout their careers, the Indians have put in the work all year long. After knocking off second-seeded Mt. Iron-Buhl 63-48 in the Class A semifinals, they had a shot to close out the season, and their careers, as state champions.

“These ladies have put in a ton of time,” coach Ryan Hulke said. “Everything we do in the summer. Everything they’ve done through AAU. Not only that, but just since their youth days. They love basketball. As a coach, it makes me work that much harder, seeing that they’re dedicated.”

While the Indians came into the Class A state tournament unseeded, they didn’t let that stop them from showing the state what they can really do.

“I don’t think we’ve gotten the recognition we necessarily should of the entire season,” senior Madi Heiderscheidt said. “It’s great to show everybody how hard we work, and how good of a basketball team we can be. Being seniors, this is our last chance. We’re trying to keep our season alive as long as we can.”

With a matchup against the Mt. Iron-Buhl Rangers in the Class A semifinals, for a trip to the state title game, the Indians went back to what worked the best. Instead of coming out in their traditional zone defense, Hulke caught the Rangers off guard, coming out in an aggressive man-to-man defense.

“We did it this summer and it worked,” Hulke said. “We played against them in the Breakdown state tournament this summer, and beat them by a couple of points—it kind of did the same thing to them tonight.”

It was a perfect call from Hulke in the biggest game of the year for the Indians. While the Rangers are a team who can light up the scoreboard in a hurry, the Indians knocked them back all game long, with their defensive pressure making baskets hard to come by.

“Sleepy Eye came out and played an aggressive man-to-man,” Mt. Iron-Buhl coach Jeff Buffetta said. “Give them credit. That probably threw us off a little bit. We were ready for their zone, and one of the things that has given us trouble in the past is good, hard, and physical man-to-man. When you get physical, that tends to throw us off a bit. Give them credit. They did a great job.”

With the defense keeping the Rangers off-balance, the Indians got red-hot from 3-point range. The Indians, who shot 50 percent (9-for-18) from 3-point range in the game, had no trouble getting acclimated to Target Center and the pressure of playing in one of the biggest games of their lives.

“They’re used to playing basketball,” Hulke said. “We play at Gustavus in the subsection finals. We play at (Minnesota State University) and other big arenas. These ladies have played in big games. They’ve been playing in big games their whole life, and tomorrow (Saturday) we get to play in the biggest.”

Senior Brianna Polesky was a big reason for that. After being held to just one point in the quarterfinals, Polesky started red-hot for the Indians. She finished with 18 points, on 4-for-8 shooting from 3-point range.

“It felt good,” Polesky said. “We’ve all worked so hard for the past how many years. We played together for a long time, so it’s really nice to get a win. It’s an unbelievable feeling.”

With the Indians leading by six, with just over six minutes to play, Heiderscheidt calmly knocked down four straight free throws to extend the lead to double digits for the Indians.

“How Madi isn’t all an All-State player is unbelievable in my mind,” Hulke said. “She gets an honorable mention bid at 22 points a game, when other people on there are in the low teens. She’s shown she’s an All-State player.”

The Indians also got big contributions from seniors Sarah Ibarra, Mya Ibberson and McKenzie Cselovszki in the win. Ibarra scored all 13 of her points in the second half, as the seniors once again led the way.

“They’re tremendous,” Hulke said about his eight seniors. “They are huge contributors. Mariah and Hanna come off the bench, and when we get those TV timeouts, they just don’t get the minutes they maybe deserve. These guys can go the whole game. All eight of them are just tremendous people. These girls care about people. They care about youth in our basketball program. They’re great role models. I have a very dedicated group, and without losing my emotions, I couldn’t be more proud of them.”

With the win, the Indians advanced to face top-seeded Lyle-Pacelli in the Class A title game. Both teams had never won a state title in program history, while the Indians will be looking to be the first unseeded team since 2014 to win the state title.

“It’s surreal,” Heiderscheidt said. “I don’t think it’s quite hit me yet. I am just so proud of everything thing we’ve done. Not just me, but everybody as a team. We’ve worked so hard for this and we deserve this more than anybody in the world.”

Class A State Semifinals

Sleepy Eye Indians 63  Mt. Iron-Buhl Rangers 48

INDIANS: 26;37;–63. Brianna Polesky 18, Madi Heiderscheidt 24, Sarah Ibarra 13, Mya Ibberson 3, McKenzie Cselovszki 5.

RANGERS: 23;25;–48 Mary Burke 15, Macy Savela 10, Allie Negen 10, Madisen Overbye 10, Mattison Bennett 2, Patia Hayes 1.