McKenna Hofschild stands just 5-foot-3-inches tall, but she has strong, broad shoulders.
The junior point guard put her Prior Lake girls basketball team on her back March 9 and carried it to the Section 2AAAA crown.
Hofschild scored a season-high 42 points in the third-seeded Lakers' 74-71 win over top-seeded Minnetonka in the Section 2AAAA title game on the Skippers' home floor.
Hofschild scored 26 points in the second half to lead Prior Lake to the program's first-ever state berth as a Class 4A program.
"We just kept working hard and kept fighting," said Hofschild, who had 41 points in the Lakers' quarterfinal win over Chaska and 32 in the semifinals against Eden Prairie. "To win this game and get to state is a great feeling. We've wanted this all season."
In the first half, it looked like Prior Lake's state hopes were almost dead. Minnetonka led by as many as 23 points, leading 20-5, 28-6 and 39-16 with just under three minutes before the break.
Hofschild didn't have a point in the first eight minutes of action, but scored 16 in the final 10 minutes of the first half, getting the Lakers to within striking distance.
Prior Lake ended the first half on an 11-2 run, trailing 41-27 going into the final 18 minutes.
The second half felt like it was played with someone continually pressing on a fast-forward button. Prior Lake scored 10 points in 45 seconds. Hofschild hit two threes. She stole the ball at midcourt and went in for two. She stole the ball again and made a pass underneath for two more points.
What was a 61-47 Skippers' lead was suddenly 61-57 — with still seven minutes to play.
"We got down in the first half, but we never gave up," Hofschild said. "We knew we could come back. It was a tough game. They made a lot of shots early. We just kept chipping away at their lead."
Down the stretch, the wheels started to come off for Minnetonka. But Skippers' guard Katey Brattland did what she could to keep her team ahead, finishing with 30 points and hitting eight three-pointers. She hit one to put her team up 71-64 with just under three minutes to play.
But the Lakers closed the game on a 10-0 run. Hofschild hit a floater in the lane to tie the game at 71-71. She made two free throws with 33.9 seconds left for a 73-71 lead as Prior lake held on in the final moments.
Sophomore Haidyn Pitsch and ninth-grader Emily Kulstad also had some big moments for the Lakers, finishing with 12 and 11 points, respectively. Kulstad played strong inside against a physical, bigger Minnetonka team. Junior Lexi Wiskow chipped in seven points, while ninth-grader Tatum Brostrom scored two.
Prior Lake picked up its seventh team foul in the second half with just over 12 minutes to play. It had nine team fouls with more 10 minutes to go and was very fortunate not to be whistled for another foul the rest of the game.
But Minnetonka was also its own worst enemy in the second half. Prior Lake wanted to play fast and the Skippers didn't slow the game down with the lead. Instead, they continued to play at the Lakers' frenetic pace, even up 58-44 with just under 10 minutes to go.
"We want to play fast; that's our style," Hofschild said. "We needed to play that way to get back into the game. We got some turnovers and hit some big shots."
Hofschild goes into state with 1,916 career points, so she needs 84 at state to get to the 2,000 mark. Image if she didn't miss 11 games to injury her ninth-grade year, she'd already be well over 2,000.
Only 13 players, according to the Minnesota State High School League, have ever scored more than 3,000 points her their high-school career in Minnesota. So Hofschild could get there next year. The all-time leading scorer in MSHSL girls basketball history is Rebekah Dahlman of Braham with 5,060 points (2007 to 2013).
Prior Lake became a Class 4A program at the start of the 2003-04 season. The Lakers have three trips to state in Class 3A — 1999, 2002 and 2003.
The way the Lakers played in the section tourney it's hard to believe the team will take 13 losses (16-13 overall) into state.
Prior Lake did not get seeded in the top five and will open quarterfinal action March 14 versus top-seeded Eastview (29-0) at the Target Center in Minneapolis at 10 a.m. Eastview beat the Lakers twice in South Suburban Conference play — 72-49 on the road back on Jan. 5 and 64-35 at home Feb. 5.
Hopkins (26-3) earned the No. 2 seed at state and will face Forest Lake (19-10) in the quarterfinals at 2 p.m., while third-seeded Cretin-Derham Hall (21-5) will take on Roseville (22-7) at 4 p.m., and fourth-seeded Lakeville North (21-5) will face fifth-seeded Maple Grove (24-5) at noon.
The semifinals are March 15 at 6 and 8 p.m., while the title game is March 17 at 8 p.m. For complete state brackets, go to www.mshsl.org.
To see more phots of the Lakers' win over Minnetonka, click here.