I ventured over to Maple Grove High School on this early Tuesday evening to take in the two semifinal games of Section 3AAA; the first one featuring upstart St. Paul Como Park; looking to make a splash and pull of a huge upset of heavy favorite Park Center out of the Northwest Suburban Conference which was looking to make yet another trip to the Section 3AAA final. The Pirates coming off an easy win last week Thursday night in their opening section game against St. Paul Johnson looked to have everything running smoothly but their task would be more difficult on this night against a Lady Cougar squad that featured a twin pair of sisters on the front line - seniors Alex Peterson and Abigail Peterson - plus a sharp shooting sophomore guard in Andrayah Adams.
Despite an early score in the paint by Park Center star forward Cayla McMorris and two treys from junior guard McKenna DuBois who had the hot hand early on for the Pirates, St. Paul Como Park managed to hang close with Head Coach John Robinson employing a 2-3 zone in an effort to try and thwart McMorris from making uncontested forays into the paint. It did, however, leave DuBois open for several three point tries and, with Park Center holding a 10-7 lead, she buried another one from the top of the key at the 12:45 mark for a 13-7 Pirate advantage that was the start of a 9-0 push over the next five minutes that finally gave number one seed Park Center some breathing room. St. Paul Como Park managed to whittle that advantage down to six points on lay-ups by junior forward Kaitlyn Jones with 5:28 left and Adams with 4:38 left but still another DuBois trey from the top of the key with 4:18 left and a hard drive into the paint and finish by the Wisconsin-bound McMorris got her fouled in the process and her ensuing free throw re-established that ten point advantage at 25-15. A lay-up in transition by McMorris with 1:44 left and two charity stripe shots with :35 left expanded that lead to 29-15 but a lay-up with :17 left by St. Paul Como Park's Adams made it a 29-17 game by the halftime buzzer. If you were Park Center Head Coach Chris VanderHyde, you felt good about having the lead but you didn't feel comfortable just yet.
The Pirates made every effort to seek that comfort zone once the second half got underway. A "3" from freshman guard Danielle Schaub from the left corner at the 17:39 mark along with two free throws by DuBois allowed Park Center to double up the Lady Cougars at 34-17 at the 16:38 mark. St. Paul Como Park tried desperately to keep things close; a lay-up by Adams at the 16:15 mark and a drive across the lane and finish by senior reserve forward Cynthia Pawlitschek shaved the Pirate lead down to 36-21 but every time the Lady Cougars tried to make inroads, Park Center would always have an answer. McMorris found a seam in that St. Paul Como Park 2-3 zone and drove in for a finish and got fouled in the process and she sank the obligatory freebie at the 13:58 mark. The Pirates were also forcing turnovers with some full-court pressing and trapping which led to an easy lay-up by McMorris at the 11:54 mark for a 41-22 Park Center lead. A St. Paul Como Park timeout called by Robinson did not stem the Pirate tide either. Moreover, the Peterson twins were suffering their own problems as well. Abigail was arguably operating at about 75-80% with either a sore left leg or ankle and her lack of mobility in this game may have played a big part in her getting whistled for her fourth foul at the 10:06 mark. Sister Alex was also suffering from the foul bugaboo as well and she had to be careful.
Still, the Lady Cougars would not go quietly into the night just yet. Two scores by Adams - a "3" from the left corner with 8:27 left and a jumper from the top just inside the arc with 8:04 left - drew St. Paul Como Park to within fourteen trailing 43-29 but again, the Pirates would have the answer that would turn away their opponent on this night. A steal and lay-up the other way by up-and-coming freshman guard Ann Simonet and another "3" from Danielle Schaub; this one from the left corner with 6:58 left got Park Center's lead back up to twenty at 49-29. Two more scores by McMorris expanded the Pirate lead to 53-32 and led to another St. Paul Como Park timeout but there would be no catching Park Center on this night. Alex Peterson fouled out with 4:15 left and despite another trey from Adams from the right top area with 3:52 left, the Lady Cougars had too far to go and not enough time to do it. McMorris let loose with a "3" from the left corner for insurance and a 57-37 Park Center lead with 3:14 left and they Pirates would maintain that cushion down the stretch to claim a convincing 62-41 victory that once again sends them to the Section 3AAA title game. This looks to be Park Center's best chance - perhaps its last chance - to finally get over that hump and get to the big stage at the State Tournament.