No matter what Colfax did, the Melrose-Mindoro juggernaut wouldn’t budge.
The Mustangs were simply not going to be denied a second straight trip to the girls basketball state tournament.
Melrose-Mindoro rode a suffocating, at times impenetrable defense to a 61-32 win over Colfax in the Division 4 sectional finals on Saturday at Eau Claire Memorial.
For the second season in a row, the Mustangs are state-bound at the expense of the Vikings. Melrose-Mindoro also beat Colfax in last year’s sectional final.
“I’ve told people that they’re one of the best Division 4 teams that I’ve seen in my entire time,” 29th-year Colfax coach Joe Doucette said of the Mustangs. “We were hoping to play better, hoping to give them a run. We thought if we could hang in there we’d have a chance, but they were clearly the better team today.”
Melrose-Mindoro, which finished as state runner-up last season, boasts several college recruits on its squad including Division I duo Emily Herzberg and Mesa Byom. Both are headed to play at South Dakota State, and both stand at six-plus feet tall.
It was the interior defense and length of Herzberg and Byom that gave the Vikings trouble early on. Colfax led 5-4 after two minutes of play but then went scoreless for almost six minutes and fell behind for good.
Herzberg and Byom made any chances near the rim few and far between, and the Mustangs turned that defense into offense with an 11-0 run.
“The girls forced turnovers, and turned turnovers into points. It just compounded from there,” Melrose-Mindoro coach Joey Arneson said.
Colfax took its best swing at the Mustangs toward the tail end of the first half. The Vikings cut the lead to single digits at nine points twice, both off baskets by Alyssa Dachel.
But struggles at the free throw line — the Vikings made one of eight attempts from the stripe in the first half — kept Colfax at arm’s length. The Mustangs’ lead was 25-15 at halftime.
It was a strong half defensively for the Vikings, as they had the Mustangs on pace to score just 50 points if things continued the way they were going. That would have been the second-lowest point total of the season for Melrose-Mindoro.
“I thought defensively we were solid enough to hang in there,” Doucette said.
But Colfax needed the offense to get moving to have any chance at a comeback, and the Mustangs’ defense wouldn’t allow it.
“We just could not score against them,” Doucette said. “I don’t know if it’s their size, their athletic ability. ... I think we tried every offense we’ve got. We wanted to try to go vertical and they make you go sideways. And when you go sideways, nothing good happens.”
The Vikings weren’t the first team to experience that against the Mustangs this postseason. Nobody has reached 40 points against Melrose-Mindoro through four playoff games so far.
“We took the 3 away against Durand (in the semifinals) and I feel like we did the same today for the most part,” Arneson said. “We tried to force them to get the ball inside.”
Dachel led Colfax with 10 points, and Kameri Meredith added five.
Herzberg had a game-high 18 points for the Mustangs and Erika Simmons scored 10.
“We just go with the hot hand. We’re so multi-dimensional in that way. You can take one or two players away, but when you’ve got players three, four and five scoring, it makes it very tough to handle,” Arneson said.
Colfax will graduate five seniors from this year’s squad: Dachel, Savannah Henricks, Rachel Knutson, Erica Kallstrom and Emma Hurlburt.
“They’re just classy kids,” Doucette said. “They’ve always been there for our program and I’ve got nothing but respect for them. They’re all going to be great kids in whatever they choose to do.”
Melrose-Mindoro 61, Colfax 32
Melrose-Mindoro (25-1): Teagan Frey 4, Jackie Brown 3, Calette Lockington 4, Mesa Byom 8, Katie Christopherson 9, Erika Simmons 10, Christine Berger 3, Alexi McRoberts 2, Emily Herzberg 18.
Colfax (19-5): Alyssa Dachel 10, Morgan Schleusner 3, Jayna Bowe 2, Kameri Meredith 5, Savannah Henricks 4, Addisyn Olson 2, Rachel Scharlau 4, Emma Hurlburt 2.
3-pointers: Melrose-Mindoro 5 (Herzberg 3, Christopherson, Berger), Colfax 2 (Dachel, Meredith).
Halftime: Melrose-Mindoro 25-15.