The Park Center girls basketball team earned its fourth consecutive trip to the state tournament, its second consecutive trip in Class 4A, with a 53-46 win over Centennial in the Section 5, Class 4A title game March 9.
The Pirates’ win over Centennial was their 14th consecutive win, a streak that started following a loss to Wayzata Jan. 20. Park Center lost games to East Ridge, Hopkins, Elk River, Minnetonka and Wayzata in the first two months of the season, but Park Center head girls basketball coach Chris VanderHyde believes those games helped his team prepare for the section and upcoming state tournaments.
“In December when you lost at Hopkins, when you lose to Elk River in a tight one, when you lost to Minnetonka in a tight one, when you lose to Wayzata in a close one, you figure out in a hurry what you’re made of and what you need to do to win games like that,” VanderHyde said. “It pays off in huge dividends in a game like tonight, because we have learned how to win games like this.
“I would much rather win this one than the ones back in December.”
The Pirates trailed 26-23 after the first half, and Park Center was looking for offensive help after struggling to shoot in the first half. That help eventually came from the Park Center seniors in the second half, as Ann Simonet (15 points), Danielle Schaub (12 points) and Mikayla Hayes (10 points, 14 rebounds) carried the Pirates to the win.
“They just had to keep fighting, keep battling,” VanderHyde said. “They definitely had some momentum and some power and they did a great job defensively and we missed shots we usually make, but it was a game they wanted for sure.
“I think a lesser team would have collapsed and lost the game, but we didn’t collapse. We didn’t let their momentum and the things they were doing get us down, we just kept fighting back possession by possession.”
Simonet connected on five three-pointers for the Pirates in the game, and each three-pointer came at the best possible time for Park Center.
“We weren’t shooting well, I wasn’t making them at first, but I was told to keep shooting and they would go in,” Simonet said. “We were down, so I knew someone had to step it up.”
Centennial’s defense was able to throw off the Pirates for much of the game, but Park Center broke through late with big buckets from Hayes, Simonet, Schaub and Sommer Blakemore to seal the comeback victory.
“Centennial is such a great team,” Hayes said. “We played really well against them the first time, and we knew it wasn’t going to be that easy the second time.
“They’re way bigger than us, so it was hard for us and really physical, but we kept up with them.”
With this game catapulting the Pirates into state tournament play, the Pirates know they will have to continue to fight as the games will only get tougher from here on out.
“This isn’t over yet, but we have to have the mentality that we’re seniors this year and we have this one last shot,” Simonet said. “We have to be the most physical team out there.”
While a game like the one it played against Centennial would serve as confidence boosters for most teams, VanderHyde said confidence has never been a problem with his group.
“This is a confident group already,” VanderHyde said. “They’re highly confident in what they’re doing and I think they can just go and prepare for [state].
“We’ll see what happens from there, but it will be a fun week.”
In order to extend its season at the state tournament, Park Center knows it has to continue to play tough basketball.
“We have to keep our focus and make sure we go into it playing team basketball,” Hayes said. “In the end we know we’re just as good as the other teams, we just have to play hard.”
Park Center will begin play in the Class 4A state tournament Tuesday, March 14, at Target Center.
Contact Chris Chesky at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @MNSunSports or @SunSportsChris.