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Minnesota girls basketball state tournament: St. Michael-Albertville defeats Hopkins in Class 4A final

Scorebook Live 3/19/2023 Jack Butler
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MINNEAPOLIS — The No. 2-seed St. Michael-Albertville Knights defeated the No. 1-seed Hopkins Royals 71-70 in the Class 4A state title game, defeating a Hopkins program that defeated the Knights in last seasons' state title game. 

The Knights built a 36-16 lead with eight minutes remaining in the first half on tremendous shooting. They finished the first half 14-of-23 from the floor, and they took a 42-25 lead into halftime.

But the Royals fought back in the second half, outscoring St. Michael-Albertvile 45 to 29 to pressure the Knights until the end.

"They let them back in, but they didn't quit," St. Michael-Albertville head coach Kent Hamre said. "Too many times when you hear the word Hopkins, you get intimidated. At times, the Hopkins intimidation was there, but overall these girls just battled right until the end."

JaKahla Craft started hot the Knights. In the Knights' monster 17-0 run in the first half, she scored 10, and she finished the first half with 14 points. 

The Knight' significant halftime lead might have been surprising, but to the Knights, Hopkins' ability to fight back was not.

"We knew, as coaches and as players, that they're gonna come back," Hamre said. "They're gonna pressure every single time. They're tenacious. They get after you, and they're so darn athletic and good. The difference this time is we held our composure and we didn't let it rattle us."

The Royals did not start the second half well. The Knights outscored them 16-13 in the opening eight minutes to build a 20-point lead. South Carolina commit Tessa Johnson was the leader for the Knights, scoring seven in that stretch and 27 in the game.

But Hopkins went on a 13-0 run to cut the lead to seven with six minutes remaining. St. Michael-Albertville had six turnovers in the final six minutes of the game as the Royals turned up the full-court press and forced the Knights to play under pressure. 

But then the pressure was high, Johnson continued to perform. The Royals had cut the deficit all the way to two when Johnson was fouled with seven seconds left and she stepped to the line for two free throws. She made them both. 

"I just focused on myself," Johnson said. "I zoned the crowd out, and I practice free throws all the time, so it's just muscle memory at this point."

Hopkins' Kelly Boyle hit a 3-point shot with two seconds remaining, but the Knights just had to throw the ball across the court on the inbounds play to kill time and win the state title. 

Hopkins has been the standard in Minnesota girls basketball for multiple seasons now, and the Knights have been one of its many victims. The Knights fell the Royals in the state title game one season ago, and they lost to them twice this season.

"We want Hopkins, and in previous years, sometimes we would be scared to play Hopkins, but we wanted them this year because, I think, last year was a big reason why we wanted them this year," Johnson said.

"We're not going to let them get a third one," she added.

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