The ball left Maddie Guler’s right hand, and what happened after that will go down as another last-second memory in the history of postseason basketball tournaments at a place that is so used to them.
The Pelican Rapids senior banked in a running one-handed buzzer-beating shot from about 20 feet to give the Vikings a 43-41 victory over Fergus Falls on Friday night for the Minnesota Class 2A, Section 8 girls basketball championship. Moments after her shot, she was the epicenter of a crush of teammates and Pelican Rapids students on Concordia’s Memorial Auditorium floor.
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“When everyone came onto the court, I looked up and my eighth-grade brother was crying,” Guler said. “The buzzer. It went in and we win. It’s insane. It’s absolutely insane.”
It was insanely loud all night, with every possession treated like gold. It was a matchup of two teams who had one loss in Class 2A this season. The Otters’ only losses were to Class 4A Moorhead, Wayzata and Minnetonka and Class 2A Sauk Centre.
Pelican remained unbeaten at 29-0 and will advance to the state tournament for the first time since 2011. The Class 2A state tournament begins Wednesday, March 11.
“I’m tired, I’m exhausted, the girls gave every ounce, everything in the tank,” said Vikings head coach Brian Korf.
Korf had enough energy to leap onto a courtside table and celebrate in front of the Vikings’ cheering section moments after Guler’s shot. It was her only field goal of the night.
Guler had to go the length of the court to do it. The Vikings had the ball out of bounds with 5.6 seconds left after a Fergus Falls turnover under their own basket. The plan, Korf said, was for Guler to race the ball up court and find a teammate.
If nobody was open, it was up to her. And she delivered.
“I saw our girls weren’t open and I knew it had to be me,” Guler said. “I shot it, and I thought, that’s going to be in.”
"Maddie Guler is our general, our floor general," Korf added. "She’s tough."
It ended a second half where the Vikings threatened to pull away on a couple of occasions. A basket and two free throws by Ryley Paulson made it 29-21. A pair of 3-pointers by Fergus’ Ellie Colbeck and Tori Ratz, however, tightened it up again.
The Otters got a boost from backup guard Carlie Meis, whose two 3-pointers kept it to a one-possession deficit for Fergus Falls. The latter with 4 minutes, 15 seconds remaining made it 38-35.
Three straight hoops from Colbeck, who led all scorers with 24 points, tied it at 41-41 with 2:40 left. With no shot clock, the Vikings kept the ball for over a minute on their offensive end, but lost possession on a missed bonus free throw.
The Otters missed on their end, followed by a Pelican offensive foul. In all, the Otters had the ball with 30 seconds remaining and the score still tied. But, after a timeout, the turnover gave Pelican Rapids a final shot at it.
"We all looked at each other and said 'get a stop, this is ours, let’s go,'" said Pelican Rapids forward Greta Tollefson.
Guler then provided the theatrics.
“You always dream about that since you’re a little kid,” Tollefson said.
Tollefson led the way with 19 points. Junior Anna Stephenson added 14.
“Great game, every defensive possession, every offensive possession, two teams who are so good defensively,” Korf said.
PELICAN RAPIDS: Guler 5, Stephenson 14, Tollefson 19, R. Paulson 6.
FERGUS FALLS: Colbeck 24, Ratz 3, Davis 3, Pearson 2, Meis 6.
Halftime: Pelican Rapids 20, Fergus Falls 17.