Wednesday, March 31, 2021

And now we know: Sleepy Eye St. Mary's

Now we know our state semifinal opponent! That would be the Sleepy Eye St. Mary's Knights, who won the Section 2A title and then won their state quarterfinal game today over Minnesota River Conference champion Mayer Lutheran by a 78-67 score at Mankato East high school. The Knights are now 23-0 overall.

I've got some research to do now!

In tonight's state tournament game, SESM's defense was a huge factor in Mayer Lutheran's ice cold 22-percent field goal shooting in the first half. Mayer Lutheran's Julia Carns scored 13 of her team's first-half points.

SESM used five three-pointers in the first half plus a perfect six-for-six performance at the free throw line to build a 31-20 halftime lead. Madison Mathiowetz led SESM in the first half with 20 points.

Mayer Lutheran had a remarkably better second half, as they started out after the break making four of their first five field goal shots. Overall, their second-half field goal shooting was a very good 55 percent.

SESM expanded their lead to as many as 19 points in the second half before Mayer Lutheran fought back down the stretch. Mathiowetz poured in 44 points on the night.

(Yes, 44 points!)

This year's SESM team is senior-laded, with the same number of seniors on the team as B-B-E: seven. The seven seniors are Sydney Windschitl, Emma Currans, Leah Miller, Sophie Portner, Megan Ahlness, Emily Weiss and Maryanne Larsen. Windschitl and Portner are the two senior starters on the team.

SESM won the Section 2A championship with a 64-59 win over defending champion Waterville-Elysian-Morristown on March 25. In that win, the Knights tallied six three-pointers compared to three by the Buccaneers. The biggest key in that game; five of the six threes made by SESM were delivered in the second half of the game. W-E-M (18-4) held the lead for just about all of the first half. The Buccaneers converted multiple early SESM turnovers into points and led 15-5 out of the gate. At halftime, W-E-M led 23-21. SESM gained the lead for good with seven minutes left at 48-45. Mathiowetz scored 27 points in that game to lead the Knights.

Coming into this season, SESM was the defending Tomahawk Conference champion. They are a perennial contender for that championship year after year. SEMS was sub-section runner-up in 2018-2019 and then sub-section champions last year.

This is SESM's first trip to the state tournament since 2005. In that state tournament, the Knights lost 51-38 to Fosston in the quarterfinals. Back then there was no consolation bracket (just like this year).

In the 2019-2020 season, SESM had an all-underclassmen roster. That team finished 25-3 overall and 14-2 in the Tomahawk Conference as solo champions. Their 14-2 mark was one game better than the  two teams who tied for second place: Springfield and Minnesota Valley Lutheran.

The Knights lost in the Section 2A championship last year to Waterville-Elysian-Morristown by a 79-68 score. They beat BOLD 58-44 in the sub-section semifinals.

This was their returning starting lineup from last year's team: Madison Mathiowetz, Sydney Windschitl, Reagan Severson, Sophie Portner and Liz Schwint.

The Knights are a well-oiled machine, which is no surprise, as you don't get to a State Final Four without being a cohesive unit. In a New Ulm Journal article, junior guard Reagan Severson provided a quote that talked about how this group of players has been working towards a state tournament berth since they were in fourth grade.

SESM is led by 11th grader Madison Mathiowetz, who averages 33 points a game (not a typo) plus 11 rebounds. That is crazy good. Mathiowetz also led SESM in scoring during her freshmen and sophomore seasons. She is truly an elite basketball player and a three-sport athlete for SESM (also playing volleyball and fastpitch). From what I've read, she is not only phenomenal at the guard position, but she can finish in the paint in tough situations. Any way you cut it, you don't have a 33 point scoring average by not doing things extremely well at any location on the court! Another starter also puts up impressive numbers each night: senior Sydney Windschitl, who averages 18 points and 6 rebounds per game. Reagan Severson is the third-best leading scorer for SESM at 10.3 points a contest.

I think it goes without saying that this upcoming state tournament game will be B-B-E's toughest test of the season so far. The Knights are a fantastic team. Just on paper, they are better than West Central Area...and we SAW first hand how good WCA is!

Here's video I haven't gotten up yet...this is the end of the Section 5A championship game. That was fun! It's a moment those players will never forget.

And here's a video clip from the first half of last night's state tournament game in Perham:

In other news...
I see that Hancock's boys' basketball team is heading to the State Final Four! That's exciting. The Owls were in Perham tonight, where they beat Nevis 57-50. Hancock has an 18-5 record.

In Class 2A, Waseca ended Morris Area/Chokio-Alberta's season in an 83-58 state quarterfinal win. The game was played at Chanhassen high school. Waseca is the No. 1-seeded team in the south half of that tournament. The MA/CA Tigers were the No. 4 seed and finish 19-3 overall.

More to come in the morning. I am calling it a day!