RAPID CITY — There were a couple of major challenges facing the No. 7 O’Gorman girls basketball team entering Friday night’s semifinal against No. 6 Aberdeen Central.
After spending the last 10 days preparing for Roosevelt, a team that had beaten them twice during the regular season, the Knights had to put Thursday’s upset of the second-seeded Rough Riders behind them and turn their attention to defending Paiton Burckhard, who had scored 38 the day before in an upset of Brandon Valley.
O’Gorman managed to accomplish both tasks and now, following their 47-34 win at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center, the Knights are just one win away from their first AA state championship since 1995.
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“If you would have told me at the beginning of the season (we would be in the finals), I wouldn’t have believed it,” O’Gorman senior Ashlee Beacom said. “But we worked really hard and we got here.”
“I’m just really excited,” added fellow senior Sebastian Akoi. “Going up against the team we’ve played the last three years, it feels like revenge for last year. It feels good.”
Beacom and Akoi tied for the team lead with 15 points apiece. Beacom picked up 12 of her points from behind the arc, and added three assists and a steal. Meanwhile, Akoi was an efficient 5-for-8 from the field with a couple of assists and two blocks.
Ronsiek poured in 10 points and seven rebounds for the Knights, who narrowly edged ABC on the glass (35-34) and shot 31 percent from the field as a team.
“As the game went on, we just seemed to get more and more comfortable, more and more confident,” Kolsrud said. “Everybody made some big plays. It was certainly a team effort, which we need for us to be successful every night.”
Though she finished with 18 points, Burckhard hit just 5 of 18 shots from the field, with her first make coming at the 4:17 mark of the second quarter. She was largely a non-factor until the fourth quarter, where she accounted for 10 of her points.
“We had to be the aggressor,” Akoi said. “We double- and triple-teamed her. We made an emphasis that we were going to guard her.”
“Our gameplan revolved around trying to keep her in check,” O’Gorman coach Kent Kolsrud said. “A player of that caliber, you’re not going to shut her out. We felt we had to really make her work hard for her points and I thought our kids did a tremendous job of executing that gameplan.”
Just as they did against Roosevelt, the Knights clogged the lane, making it difficult for their opponent to get much of anything going inside. They limited the Golden Eagles to just seven first-half points on 2 of 21 shooting.
By the end of the night, Aberdeen Central had just 11 field goals on 52 attempts, with five 3-pointers on 26 tries.
“Defensively they did exactly what we said they were going to do — pack it in and make us shoot from the outside, which is okay because we’ve got kids who can score,” Aberdeen Central coach Dawn Seiler said. “But we miss a few shots and then we don’t want to shoot anymore. Then it’s tough to score. We got frustrated, forced some things and it just all feeds into it.”
After trailing by as many as 19 in the third quarter, the Golden Eagles found some traction early in the fourth. 3-pointers from Haylee Mork, Laura Babcock and Burckhard cut the margin to 36-25, but O’Gorman maintained its composure and started to push back. Buckets from Akoi, Emma Ronsiek and Kendyl Kreber helped to stabilize the Knights and pushed their lead back to 17.
“Give Aberdeen some credit, they made a run at us in the second half,” Kolsrud said. “I was really proud of the way our kids kept their composure. We made some big shots, made some big plays to close the game out.”
The Knights advance to face top-seeded Harrisburg in tomorrow’s championship.
Follow Brian Haenchen on Twitter at @Brian_Haenchen .