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Girls basketball: Willmar Cardinals aim for a complete game

Mar. 1---- A full 36 minutes of play will be key for the third-seeded

in its upcoming Section 8AAA semifinal matchup.

The Cards go against Central Lakes Conference foe No. 2 Fergus Falls at 7 p.m. Saturday.

Willmar (13-14) went 0-2 against the Otters (18-9) in conference play, but led Fergus Falls at halftime in both matchups. The Cardinals have also had leads in the double figures before losing

and

.

"(Fergus Falls is) a team we've played two really good first halves against," Cardinals head coach Brendan Hedtke said. "I'm expecting a close one. It's been two close ones. Unfortunately, we lost both of them. Otherwise, we'd probably be playing here on Saturday instead of up there."

Willmar senior guard Maycee Gustafson added, "We're really looking forward to it. After losing to (the Otters) the last two times, we're not about to let that happen a third time. We're all really excited to play and work hard."

The Cardinals will look to count on their defense, which has allowed 53.9 points per game, and be patient on the offensive end of the court.

"We just got to rely on our defense and not try to push the lead back every possession," Hedtke said. "Sometimes we try to score too many points in one possession when you can only score three.

"I think the message is to be confident in ourselves and don't get too scared if a run does happen."

Willmar's defense must keep an eye out for Fergus Falls' Brynn Sternberg. The 5-foot-11 junior guard is a threat, especially from beyond the arc, who can heat up at any given time, according to Hedtke.

"She can get hot really quick," Hedtke said. "She can shoot from deep and it's hard to find her sometimes.

"I'm expecting that, even if we get a big lead, it's going to be hard to keep that if we lose track of her because she's a pretty good player."

Sternberg will be the focal point for the Cardinals' defense.

"We really just try to focus on where she is at all times," Gustafson said. "Everyone on the floor knows where she is. We focus our defensive attention in making sure she won't be able to score as much."

Willmar is searching for its first appearance back in the Section 8AAA championship since the 2021-22 season.

"I think just knowing this is our last year and we just have one more time to go for a section final and state that this just really gives us motivation to want to go," Gustafson said. "The group of girls that are younger than us really are fun to work with and they all want it too."

Hedtke added, "The girls want revenge because they feel we've blew two games against them. The girls think we're a more talented team, but we just got to put together a full 36 minutes of basketball."

The other Section 8AAA semifinal pits fifth-seeded Little Falls (14-13) at top-seeded Alexandria (22-4) at 7 p.m. Saturday. The Flyers beat fourth-seeded Detroit Lakes (13-14). Alexandria had a first-round bye. The 8AAA final is set for 7 p.m. Thursday at a neutral site. At stake is a berth in the state tournament.