In front of a raucous crowd at Elk River High School, the Elks held off the challenge of a team that knocked off No. 8 Maple Grove in the Section 8-4A quarterfinal to advance to the Class 4A state tournament for the first time in four years.
No. 5 Elk River (19-1) defeated St. Michael-Albertville (9-9) 56-51 on Friday, March 26, at Elk River High School to advance to the Class 4A state tournament for the first time since winning the Class 4A state title in 2016-17.
Head coach Jeremy Digiovanni said making the state tournament is exciting.
"Any time you can get to this point in the season and play with the best of the best in the state, that's certainly an accomplishment in itself," Digiovanni said. "For this team in particular, it's a great way to culminate a season that's been filled with a lot of hard work, a lot of dedication by the girls to the team and to each other. It's a testament to the will they've had to overcome a challenging season that is unique for everybody in terms of the hand that we've been dealt with COVID-19. Our girls have remained positive and continued to work every day to get better. We're excited to have the opportunity to play a couple more weeks."
The Elks trailed early 6-2, but Elk River responded to take a 16-12 lead and led 28-22 at halftime.
Digiovanni said the Elks were a bit overexcited for the big moment in the first half.
"We needed to settle down," he said. "We were not sharp defensively in the first couple of minutes, leaving one of their shooters open. Once we got ourselves settled down and started to get comfortable in the game again, we were able to find some rhythm offensively and we were able to get some more consistent stops on the defensive end. Once we got the momentum swung in our favor, we were able to hang onto it for the most part of the game after that."
After immense pressure from the Knights in the second half, the Elks held off St. Michael-Albertville for the final minute of regulation in a back-and-forth half. The Knights outscored the Elks 29-28, but Elk River held on for a 56-51 win and the program's first state tournament berth since 2017.
Offensive Player of the Game
Senior guard Elly Bahr led the team with a career-high 22 points. She had 4 3-pointers.
Digiovanni said Bahr was a catalyst both offensively and defensively.
"She was consistent all the way around, driving from outside the basket, making free throws at clutch times," he said. "She had an all-around good game. On the defensive end, she was strong taking and disrupring the rhythm of one of their stronger offensive players [Emma Miller]."
Elk River will face No. 7 Centennial (20-1) in the Class 4A quarterfinal on Tuesday, March 30, at 7 p.m. at Osseo High School. The Elks and Cougars split the season series 1-1. Elk River defeated Centennial 45-32 on Friday, Feb. 19, while the Cougars defeated the Elks 54-45 on Tuesday, March 9, in the Elks only loss of 2020-21 so far. The winner will advance to the Class 4A semifinal against either No. 2 Farmington (21-0) or Rosemount (18-3) on Wednesday, April 7, at 9 p.m. at Target Center in Minneapolis.
Digiovanni said Tuesday's game should be very competitive.
"We expect it's going to be an extremely tough matchup," Digiovanni said. "We know each other well. We split with each other during the season. It should be a fun game. It's the type of matchup that you'd want to see in the postseason between two teams that are evenly matched up. If you look at our games during the season, that would show that. There's definitely not going to be a lot of secrets to be had because we know each other so well. It's going to come down to which team is going to be able to execute their game plan better."