The Prior Lake girls basketball team achieved higher heights this season with its first-ever state berth as a Class 4A program.
The Lakers went into state as underdogs with 13 losses, losing to top-seeded Eastview 78-44 in the quarterfinals March 14 at the Target Center in Minneapolis.
Prior Lake's season ended March 15 in heartbreak fashion in the consolation semifinals, falling 61-58 to fifth-seeded Maple Grove at Concordia University in St. Paul. The Crimson hit a game-winning, 35-footer at the buzzer to pull out the victory.
It was a tough end to an otherwise breakthrough campaign for the Lakers (16-15 overall). There wasn't a senior on Prior Lake's state roster, so there should be higher expectations next winter.
Junior point guard McKenna Hofschils scored 57 of the Lakers' 102 points in their two state games. She had 30 in the loss to Maple Grove, fouling out with the game tied 55-55 with 2:07 to play.
Against Eastview, Hofschild scored 27 points in the loss.
Already the Lakers' all-time leading scorer, Hofschild will go into her senior year next season with 1,973 career points. In five postseason games, Hofschild averaged 34.4 points, leading her team to the Section 2AAAA crown. She averaged 27.6 points on the season.
"She's a special talent," Lakers coach Mike Gidley told the Minnesota Girls Basketball Hub. "The game never gets too big for her. The bigger the game, the bigger she gets."
In the state quarterfinals, the bigger, more experienced Eastview team was too much for Prior Lake to handle.
The Lakers were hanging around at the break, training 28-17. But the Lightning, ranked No. 1 in the state all season and going into state with a 29-0 mark, started the second half on an 18-6 run and to lead 48-23 with 12:35 to play.
With the way the Lightning play defense, a Laker comeback would have been a very tall order. Eastview was up 64-33 with just over five minutes remaining.
"They're a veteran basketball team; they're precise and they play together," Gidley said. "That is a complete team."
Eastview beat Prior Lake twice during the South Suburban Conference season — 72-49 on the road back on Jan. 5 and 64-35 at home Feb. 5 in a game Hofschild missed. The Lightning won the SSC crown, while the Lakers were fifth with a 9-9 mark.
Hofschild scored 13 of the Lakers' 17 points in the first half against Eastview at state. She finished 9 of 11 from the free throw line, but was just 2 of 9 from three-point range.
Ninth-grader Emily Kulstad finished with eight points and four rebounds for the Lakers, while ninth-grader Tatum Brostrom scored five points. Sophomore Ella Schnackenberg and junior Emma Brower each had two points.
In the loss to Maple Grove, Prior Lake had the ball with 29 seconds left tied 58-58 with a chance at a game-winner. The Lakers took the shot with four seconds to play. Maple Grove grabbed a long rebound and quickly called timeout.
The time clock showed all zeros, but the referees added back one second, giving the Crimson the ball near midcourt. Autumn Milnar caught a long inbound pass right in front of her own bench, turned and launched a prayer that was answered.
Brostrom gave the Lakers a 58-57 lead with a three-pointer with 41 seconds left. Maple Grove was fouled with 29 seconds to go, making 1 or 2 free throws to tie the game.
Prior Lake led 35-33 at the break and went up 50-43 on junior Lexi Wiskow's basket with 8:56 remaining. Maple Grove responded with a 14-5 run to lead 57-55 with 1:54 to play.
Hofschild picked up her fifth foul on a drive to the basket with the game knotted at 55.
Kulstad and Brostrom each finished with seven points. Sophomore Haidyn Pitsch scored six points, while Wiskow ended up with four and ninth-grader Kate Trachsel chipped in three.
Schnackenberg led the team with six rebounds, adding one point.
For more photos of the Lakers in the state quarterfinals, click here.