PRAIRIE FARM — It was only a few minutes into the biggest game of the season, and the walls were already closing in on the McDonell girls basketball team.
The scoreboard read 8-0 in favor of top-seeded Prairie Farm. A thunderous home crowd was rattling the bleachers. Shots weren't falling.
Things were threatening to get out of hand.
"All I was thinking was I don't want to lose this game," McDonell junior Destiny Baughman said. "I don't want my season to be done."
The Macks immediately turned those thoughts into action.
McDonell responded in resounding fashion, storming back to tie the game in the first half before turning it into a rout with a dominant display in the second half. By the time the Macks were done on Saturday, they'd beaten the state's No. 2-ranked team 72-53.
And to the victor go the spoils. McDonell is now headed to the Division 5 state tournament for the first time in school history.
"This team has fought through adversity all season," coach Don Cooper said. "It steps up and has faced all the challenges, one thing after the other. Each girl stepped up and we kept believing in ourselves."
After giving up the first eight points of the game, the Macks managed to claw back in with gritty defense and a controlling offense. McDonell eventually tied the game with an 8-2 run midway through the first half, and a 3-pointer by Emily Cooper late in the half gave them a 28-25 lead.
They never trailed again.
"We don't give up," Baughman said. "It doesn't matter what the score is, we're going to keep pushing until the clock hits zero."
McDonell (12-3) will learn its opponent for the Division 5 state semifinals after the field is re-seeded. The Division 5 tournament is set to be held at the La Crosse Center on Thursday.
For now, the Macks can savor an accomplishment they've never achieved before.
"It means everything to me," said Anna Geissler, McDonell's lone senior. "I'm so happy, and I'm so happy that we played as a team to get it done."
McDonell was firing on all cylinders in the second half against the Panthers (19-3), opening with a 9-2 run to all but put Prairie Farm out of reach.
The Macks held the Panthers to four points for the first 10 minutes of the second half. It was a performance befitting of a state-bound team.
"We were getting the defense to spread out, and then kept driving and kicking to find open shots," Baughman said.
By the middle of the second half, McDonell led by as many as 25. As time ticked down, the Macks dribbled out the clock as hugs and jumps of joy began on the sideline.
Lauryn Deetz led McDonell with 19 points, and Emily Cooper and Destiny Baughman added 14 and 12, respectively. Eryn Bates scored 15 points to lead the Panthers.
The Macks controlled the glass for long spurts and shot well from deep, hitting eight 3-pointers.
There had been some tough postseason losses in the past. But that's exactly where the Macks left them on Saturday afternoon.
"I'm so grateful that we got to represent for all the teams before us that couldn't get here, and we get to make an appearance for them too," Geissler said.
McDonell 72, Prairie Farm 53
McDonell (12-3): Lauryn Deetz 19, Emily Cooper 14, Destiny Baughman 12, Anna Geissler 8, Marley Hughes 7, Abigail Petranovich 6, Laneyse Baughman 5, Emma Stelter 1.
Prairie Farm (19-3): Eryn Bates 15, Sydney Junkans 12, Makaylin Christenson 11, Marnie Kahl 9, Avery Hansen 4, Lauren Kahl 2.
3-point goals: McDonell 8 (Cooper 4, Deetz 2, Hughes, D. Baughman), Prairie Farm 3 (Bates 2, M. Kahl).
Halftime: McDonell 42-33.