Patriots find range, way back to state tourney

When the shots aren't falling — even after 11 straight misses — Millard South never stops believing the next one will go in.

The Patriots' defense held through a quarter-long dry spell Thursday, and second-ranked Millard South eventually hit enough shots in the second half to clinch its first Class A state tournament berth since 1999 with a 49-39 win over rival Millard North in the District A-5 final.

At a packed gym at Millard South, the Patriots outscored Millard North 12-4 in the final 5:40, sparked by back-to-back 3-pointers from junior guard Lauren Sanders, who finished with 11 points.

"It's amazing," Sanders said, "just knowing it's been (17) years since (the last state tournament appearance). It's great."

Sanders was one of three Patriots in double figures. Five-foot-1 junior Haley Koetje led Millard South with 12 points, and junior guard Grace Rasmussen added 10 as the Patriots avenged a 54-47 loss Jan. 29 to the Mustangs.

"We played with more heart, more effort, honestly," said Koetje, comparing Thursday's win to January's first meeting. "We beat them to all the loose balls. I think we just played better. Today was the best we ever offensive rebounded. We really wanted this."

Despite a size disadvantage, Millard South (22-4) held a 26-25 rebounding edge, including eight offensive boards. Rasmussen was fouled after grabbing an offensive rebound late in the second quarter and hit two free throws to give the Patriots a 16-14 lead. It stopped Millard North's 8-0 run that came as the Patriots missed their first 11 shots of the quarter.

"With how small we are, we have to make shots," Millard South coach Bryce Meyers said. "Sometimes it happens where we miss shots for a couple minutes when teams go zone on us. But we haven't had a game yet where we don't go for three or four minutes with an offensive outburst."

The Patriots' surge Thursday came midway through the fourth. After Millard North's Olivia Grasso tied it 35-35 with a pair of free throws, Sanders followed with a 3-pointer to give Millard South the lead.

Sanders answered another Grasso basket with her second trey of the quarter for a 41-37 edge with 4:40 remaining, and the Mustangs couldn't get any closer as Millard South hit 11 of 17 free throws in the final period.

"They do a good job of making you uncomfortable," Millard North coach Dave Diehl said. "And that environment, when it's so loud, you have a hard time communicating. That environment gets you out of a rhythm."

The Mustangs (17-7), ranked 10th in Class A, never found their shooting touch from deep. They missed all 16 3-point attempts while Millard South finished 7 for 18 from beyond the arc.

Millard North's Grasso sisters, both seniors, led the way for the Mustangs in their final game. Gabby Grasso scored a game-high 16, while Olivia Grasso added 12 points and 10 rebounds. Millard North finished ninth in the Class A wild-card standings.

At the final buzzer, Millard South students mobbed the team at midcourt, and following the presentation of the district championship plaque, the students crowded behind the team for photos. Looking on was Meyers, whose seniors were in diapers the last time the team made state.

"It's awesome," the coach said. "I know how hard they work. They put it more time than any group I've ever been around."

Contact the writer: 402-444-1201 sports@owh.com, twitter.com/OWHJeffSheldon

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