SLEEPY EYE - When it comes to the playoffs, the saying is "win or go home."
Up eight at halftime, the Sleepy Eye girls basketball team came out determined to keep playing and blew the game open en route to a 60-47 victory over Buffalo Lake-Hector-Stewart in the first round of the Section 2A playoffs on Thursday.
BLHS got off to a quick 5-0 start, but Sleepy Eye answered back thanks to a new press unveiled by coach Ryan Hulke.
"It's something that we haven't done all year," Hulke said. "We did well tonight. We got some steals and we wanted to make this game go up and down, and that was the key for us."
The press led to a handful of Mustang turnovers and also led to a good number of easy transition baskets for the Indians.
"Initially we struggled with it," BLHS coach James Bertsch said. "Once we realized it was just a token-type defense we were fine, but they played great and we couldn't match up."
Sleepy Eye sophomore guard Justine Gonzalez was seemingly right in the middle of things on every play. Gonzalez scored 11 first-half points, had a number of steals and a few nice passes to lead Sleepy Eye to a 29-21 lead at the break.
"Justine was great tonight," Hulke said. "She wants to be a one-sided player, but she played defense tonight and it led to her offense. Our guards really carried us tonight led by Justine, Alicia (Ibarra) and McKayla (Ahlrich)."
Sleepy Eye came out of the gates in the second half with a sense of urgency and used a quick 14-4 run to take a commanding 43-25 lead.
Again it was BLHS turnovers leading to Sleepy Eye baskets, and junior Claire Krumbach scored eight points during the run.
The lead would get to as many as 20 points for the Indians, who coasted on to a 60-47 victory to advance to the second round of Section 2A tournament play.
Gonzalez finished with a game-high 19 points for Sleepy Eye, while Krumbach finished with 16 points and 11 rebounds. Ahlrich added 11 points for Sleepy Eye.
BLHS was led by junior Hannah VanderVoort. VanderVoort scored 17 points, scoring from the perimeter as well as getting to the foul line.
"She has come a long way," Bertsch said. "At the start of the season she was shooting and shooting and things weren't falling. We got after her about taking it to the hoop and she's become real aggressive and loves to attack the hole."
Juniors Michelle Melsha and Katie Kalenberg each scored seven points for BLHS.
BLHS sees its season come to an end with a 2-20 record. With just one senior, the Mustangs will bring back a lot of experience and will look to have a successful season next year.
"It was a rough year, but we're young," Bertsch said. "We got a lot of experience this year and next year is an upswing. It's all going to come down to how bad they want it and what they do in the offseason."
Sleepy Eye improves to 9-17 overall and advances to the second round to play top seed Minnesota Valley Lutheran on Tuesday in a rematch of last year's second round game.
"Playoff wins are great, and we're not going home," Hulke said. "MVL is the number one seed for a reason. They're a good team, they're a deep team, and we're going to have to play our best game to beat them."