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Warriors stand one win away from Class A state title after defeating MCM

Winner junior Morgan Hammerbeck (21) shoots over McCook Central/Montrose forward Abigail Van Ruler during the third quarter of the Class A state semifinals on Friday at the Premier Center in Sioux Falls. (Nick Sabato / Republic)

SIOUX FALLS -- Winner has been gradually crossing off its to-do list and the last item left was to win the Class A girls basketball state championship.

Now they’re one game away.

On Friday, sixth-seeded McCook Central/Montrose was the only obstacle in the way for the No. 2 Warriors, and it was a tall obstacle to climb in Friday’s semifinal tilt at the Premier Center.

Rather than avoiding the 6-foot duo of Abigail Van Ruler and Madisen Koepsell, Winner opted to attack them in the paint and the result was a 66-44 win and a trip to face No. 1 West Central for the state championship at 5 p.m. on Saturday in a battle of unbeatens at the Premier Center.

“We’re not satisfied with just making the state championship game,” Winner head coach Larry Aaker said. “We’ve been in three state championships so far and two in the past five years. One thing we learned from (those losses) was not to be satisfied just to get there.”

In MCM’s quarterfinal win over Todd County, Van Ruler scored 25 points and grabbed 12 rebounds as the Fighting Cougars hauled in 53 as a team. On Friday, Winner beat them at their own game.

The Warriors (23-0) only had a plus-three advantage on the glass, but they snared 18 offensive boards, compared to four for MCM.

The Fighting Cougars could not match Winner on the glass, particularly with Koepsell and Van Ruler in foul trouble for most of the second quarter and without guard McKenna Kranz, who missed the entire game with an undisclosed injury.

“We thrive on beating teams with rebounds,” MCM head coach Doug Durfee said. “Getting easy shots, getting high-low and we just couldn’t get anything going tonight.”

Winner blanketed the MCM (19-5) post players in the half court, but oftentimes, the ball never got that far. The Warriors used a full-court press to force 24 turnovers -- while only committing two -- and 14 steals.

Kalla Bertram -- who had 15 points off the bench -- along with Morgan Hammerbeck, Madison Thieman and Maggie LaCompte combined for 10 steals in the press.

“Credit our guards, they did a great job,” Aaker said. “We knew going in that we could cause a lot of trouble and frustrate them. I didn’t know if we’d be able to frustrate them like that, but we were able to.”

Van Ruler swatted six shots during the game, but Winner continually attacked the hoop, getting into the middle of the MCM zone defense.

Stationed at the foul line, Morgan Hammerbeck scored 16 points -- to go along with four rebounds, four assists and three steals -- while Bella Swedlund cut into the seams for a game-high 19 points, six rebounds and five assists.

“Watching their game yesterday, we knew the high post would be open,” Hammerbeck said. “So we decided to get in there and take it to them to get them out of their game.”

Jacy Pulse led MCM with 11 points and seven assists, while Morgan Erikson pitched in 11 points and Van Ruler added nine. The Fighting Cougars faces No. 4 Lennox in the third-place game at 1:45 p.m. Saturday at the Premier Center.

Winner 66, McCook Central/Montrose 44

McCook Central/Montrose (19-5): Ashtyn Wobig 0-0 0-0 0, Madisen Koepsell 3-4 2-6 7, Abigail Van Ruler 4-8 1-2 9, Jacy Pulse 5-11 0-0 11, Morgan Erikson 4-9 0-0 11, Hope Bartmann 0-0 0-0 0, Riley Morrison 0-0 0-0 0, Ciara Rother 0-2 0-0 0, Emily Bies 2-2 0-0 5, Maggie Miles 0-0 0-0 0, Maleah Gordon 0-0 0-0 0, Kyliee Dunn 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 18-36 3-8 44.

Winner (23-0): Abby Marts 0-0 2-2 2, Madison Thieman 0-2 0-0 0, Morgan Hammerbeck 7-21 2-2 16, Bella Swedlund 7-21 4-4 19, Gabriel Kocer 1-5 0-0 2, Maggie LaCompte 2-6 0-0 6, Ellie Brozik 0-2 0-0 0, Kalla Bertram 7-11 1-1 15, Katherine Jankauskas 0-0 0-0 0, Gracie Littau 0-0 0-0 0, Jeslyn Felix 0-1 0-0 0, Kelsey Sachtjen 2-3 2-2 6, Joslyn Felix 0-1 0-0 0, Jaynee Gregg 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 26-73 11-11 66.

MCM 13 23 37 44

W 14 29 51 66

3-point field goals: MCM 5-12 (Erikson 3-8, Bies 1-1, Pulse 1-3), W 3-21 (LaCompte 2-5, Swedlund 1-7, Brozik 0-1, Jo. Felix 0-1, Hammerbeck 0-1, Thieman 0-2, Kocer 0-3). Rebounds: MCM 30 (Koepsell 8), W 33 (Bertram 7). Assists: MCM 13 (Pulse 7), W 16 (Swedlund 5). Blocked shots: MCM 7 (Van Ruler 6), W 2 (Marts 2). Steals: MCM 0, W 14 (Three players with 3). Turnovers: MCM 24, W 2. Total fouls: MCM 9, W 10.