Girls Basketball: Patriots vs. Rangers in Brainerd as expected

The two hottest teams in Section 7-2A will be facing off for a chance to play in the state tournament 7 p.m. Friday, March 10, at Brainerd High School.

Coach talks to the team during a timeout.
Pequot Lakes' head coach girls' basketball coach Brian Lempola talks to the team during a timeout Wednesday, March 8, 2023, during the Section 7-2A Semifinals against Duluth Marshall at the University of Minnesota, Duluth.
Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

BRAINERD — Few teams are playing at as high a level as the two teams squaring off 7 p.m. Friday, March 10, at Brainerd High School.

The Section 7-2A Final will pit Mid-State Conference rivals Pequot Lakes against No. 3-seeded Crosby-Ironton.

The top-seeded Patriots (25-3 overall) have won eight straight, including a 64-49 victory Wednesday, March 8, against Duluth Marshall in the section semifinals.

Maci Martini
Maci Martini

The No. 8 ranked Patriots employ a balanced scoring attack between senior Maci Martini’s 14.3 points per game, junior guard Kelsi Martini’s 13.6 points, junior point guard Isabel Larson’s 13.3 points, junior forward Ella Kratochvil’s 9.4 points and junior guard Lauren Schultz’s 6.8 points.
But the key for Pequot early will be defense.

“I would say, defensively, that we’re locked in,” Pequot Lakes head coach Brian Lempola said. “That we have some really good defensive possessions early and I think getting on the scoreboard early is a big thing, too. Just making sure our feet are moving and we are locked into our game plan both offensively and defensively and executing on both sides of the ball.”


Maci Martini is hitting 41.4% of her field goals, including 41.0% from 3-point. She’s most deadly down the stretch as she is hitting 82.6% of her free throws. She’s adding 127 rebounds, 102 deflections, 87 steals, 52 assists and three blocked shots.

Both Maci Martini and Kratochvil stand 5-foot-10, but Kratochvil is Pequot’s inside presence. She’s hitting on 48.8% of her field-goal attempts and 60.9% from the line. She’s secured a team-high 175 rebounds to go with 105 assists, 118 deflections, 100 steals and 13 blocked shots. Larson is shooting 41% from the field with Kelsi Martini shooting 46.3%. Kelsi Martini is Pequot’s most efficient 3-point shooter at 43.1%. Larson has 156 rebounds and a team-high 122 assists and 88 steals. Kelsi Martini owns 118 rebounds, 70 assists and 69 steals.

Pequot’s top two reserves are senior Kaitlyn Geschwill and sophomore Reese Laposky.

“Rebounding is key,” Lempola said. “You have to make those shots No. 1, but then you have to clean up any missed shots you have and you have to limit your opponent to a one-and-done. I think the team that rebounds the best tomorrow is probably going to be on the winning side.”

Basketball fans cheer on their team
The Crosby-Ironton Rangers fan section was well represented Wednesday, March 8, 2023, during the Section 7-2A Semifinals at the University of Minnesota, Duluth.
Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Of Pequot’s 25 victories, the big ones came against No. 17 ranked Pine City, No. 12 Montevideo, a 61-50 win over Class 3A’s 10th-ranked Detroit Lakes and a win over No. 11 ranked Perham.

Pequot’s current eight-game winning streak is not its longest of the season. The Patriots rattled off a 15-game winning streak during the regular season on its way to a 15-1 record against section opponents. The Patriots’ last loss and only loss against a section team came Feb. 10, against their next opponent C-I.

“That was a huge win,” Rangers head coach Pete Vukelich said. “Some might say it was everything just because it had been so long since we had beaten them. I think I beat them my first year as coach in Pequot so that was four years ago. It’s just been a loss ever since so to finally break through just meant everything. It proved we can play with that Patriot team.”

Schultz did not play in that game and both coaches believe her presence on the court will make a difference.


“I think it’s big having Lauren back,” Lempola said. “She’s kind of the heart and soul of our defense with her communication skills. That’s big with her calling out shooters from that standpoint and just a rebounding presence.”

Schultz is shooting 35.8% from the field and 66.3% from the free throw line. She’s collected 122 rebounds, 20 assists, 21 steals and two blocks. But her contributions are more than just numbers.

“Schultz is the heart and soul of their defense,” Vukelich said. “They can get some offense from her, but mainly she’s the heart and soul of their defense and having her back is going to be huge for them, I think.”

The Rangers are on an 11-game winning streak, which includes a 55-53 upset victory over No. 2 seeded Proctor Wednesday, March 10, in the section semifinals. Of those 11 wins, the Rangers topped No. 8 ranked Pequot, No. 4 ranked New London-Spicer, Class 3A’s No. 10-ranked Detroit Lakes and No. 7 ranked Minnehaha Academy. C-I also picked up wins over No. 14 ranked Holdingford and Class 1A’s top-ranked Mountain Iron-Buhl.

C-I opened the season 0-2 with losses to Proctor and Class 2A’s No. 2 ranked Albany. Its other five losses came to No. 12 ranked Montevideo, No. 17 ranked Pine City, Pequot Lakes, Detroit Lakes and Holy Family Catholic, which is playing in the Section 5-2A Finals against top-ranked Providence Academy.

The Rangers’ last loss came Feb. 4.

“We’ve been put in close-game situations a few times this year and I thought last night’s game was big because it came on a neutral court,” Vukelich said. “Our neutral court record wasn’t great coming into that game. Honestly, as a coach, it is worrisome. We played great at home and during one huddle I told the girls we have the home crowd into it so let’s go finish it like we would on our home court. The crowd gave us that vibe and I think it’s huge that we can perform when it’s loud and the lights are the brightest.”

C-I (22-7) is led by freshman Tori Oehrlein, who is leading the team with 913 points (31.5 per game) 418 rebounds (14.4), 186 assists (6.4), 121 steals (4.2) and 39 blocked shots (1.3). The 5-11 phenom is hitting 56% from the field, 35% from 3-point and 71% from the line.


Tori Oehrlein.

The key to C-I’s offensive success, however, is the ability of senior guard Hannah Compton and junior guard Margaret Silgen to open things up from the outside.

Compton is averaging 13.7 points per game on 45% shooting from the field and 39% from 3-point. She’s also connecting on 85% from the line to go with 3.7 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.9 steals per game.

“That’s going to be big,” Vukelich said. “That was one thing we wanted to do Wednesday was to come out fast. Proctor slowed us down quite a bit. I think there were seven or eight minutes left and they tried to stall us out. We need to hit early and often. We’re not going to put Pequot away by any means. We know that. It’s going to be a game of runs. They’ll go on a run and we just need to answer it.

“A fast start with the crowds that we’ve been having could help out a lot, though. If we get the following that we’ve had and we get out to a quick lead, especially with those two going early and then let Tori do the dirty work late, that could be a good recipe for us.”

Silgen is averaging 9.2 points on 37% shooting from the field and 31% from 3-point. She’s grabbing 4.4 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.4 steals per game.

Senior Josie Schaefer was the game-winning hero Wednesday against Proctor. Her layup with 4 seconds remaining advanced C-I to its first section final since 2017. The Rangers’ one and only state appearance happened in 2004.

Schaefer, a 5-10 post, is averaging 5.3 points and 4.3 rebounds per game.

C-I’s fifth starter is freshman guard Sami Hachey. The defensive specialist is averaging 4.5 points, 3.1 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 1.0 steals per game.


Freshman Lucille Lewandowski and senior forward Brynn Hollenhorst are C-I’s top reserves.

Pequot Lakes defeated C-I 63-38 Jan. 19. C-I topped Pequot 73-72 Feb. 10.

“For sure we have to know where Maci Martini is at all times,” Vukelich said. “The second time we played them, I believe we were up eight and then she hit three consecutive 3-pointers to give them a one-point lead. We have to know where she is at.

“Then we need to take care of the ball. We had way too many turnovers the first time we saw them. It got cut down the second time we saw them, but we need to take care of the ball. They fly around and swarm so well on defense.”

Pequot Lakes, which is hoping to make its ninth state tournament appearance since 1999 and second straight, defeated the Pierz Pioneers in last year’s section final at Brainerd.

“It helps for a variety of reasons,” Lempola said about being familiar with the gym. “Just being able to handle those emotions and that size of crowd. I don’t think either of us has seen that size of crowd that we’re expecting to be there tomorrow. Having a year of experience and that moment in that gym last March will be an advantage for sure.”

Basketball semifinals
Pequot Lakes fans cheer on their Patriots girls basketball team Wednesday, March 8, 2023, during the Section 7-2A Semifinals at the University of Minnesota, Duluth.
Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Lempola’s prediction from a fan’s standpoint: “I think it’s just going to be an electric, phenomenal environment for one. I think the team that settles in and handles that and executes, without being able to hear a lot of verbals because of the noise, is going to be key.”

Said Vukelich: “I texted some of the guys I graduated with (Wednesday night) hoping to avenge the loss we suffered 16 years ago when we were juniors in that gym to Pequot. I think you just have to tell the girls it’s just another game even though it won’t be. You have to treat it like a home game with the fans that we’re going to have.


“Mainly just enjoy it. There are only 16 teams in our class that get to play in this game and we’re fortunate enough to be one of them. Just enjoy every second, every minute, every possession. But don’t leave the floor saying you could have left something else out there.”

JEREMY MILLSOP may be reached at 218-855-5856 or Follow on Twitter at .

Pequot Lakes vs. Crosby-Ironton

What: Section 7-2A Girls Basketball Championship

Who: Top-seeded Pequot Lakes (25-3) vs. No. 3-seeded Crosby-Ironton (22-7)

When: 7 p.m. Friday, March 10

Where: Brainerd High School

Notes: Ticket sales will begin at 6 p.m. Doors will open at 6:15 p.m. Fans are encouraged to come into the building through the main entrance on the east side of the building or on the south side. That’s where the most parking will be.

At stake: Trip to the Class 2A State Girls Basketball Tournament March 15 at University of Minnesota, Minneapolis

Covering the Brainerd lakes area sports scene for the past 23 years.
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