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Cardinals hit MIB wall in section final

The Cardinals had a chance when they faced Mountain Iron-Buhl in the Section 7A championship game, but the Cromwell-Wright girls basketball team would have had to play a near perfect game to beat the defending state champions.

In the end, that game didn't materialize, and the Cardinals fell, 76-35, at Romano Gymnasium on the campus of the University of Minnesota Duluth on March 8.

"We picked a bad time to not play our best game of the season, while they played the best game I have seen them play this season against us Friday night," said Cardinals head coach Jeff Gronner.

Cromwell-Wright lost to the Rangers, 76-63, in early December. The Cards were hoping that game would provide confidence.

"We played them really close that first time we played them," Gronner said. "We led at halftime and were four points down late in the game with some chances, but they were just able to pull away at the end."

The Cardinals are the only team to beat Mt. Iron-Buhl in the section championship game in the past 13 seasons. The Cardinals won the 2020 section title and were set to play in the state semifinals that season when the tournament ended suddenly because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

By winning the Section 7A championship for the fourth time in a row, MIB showed it was ready to defend its state championship.

The Rangers started fast as they rolled to an 18-point lead, 39-21, at halftime. MIB extended its lead in the second half to 41 points.

Senior Jordan Zubich poured in 30 points in the victory, adding on to her 3,400 career points, while the Cardinals were led by Emaleigh Olesiak, who scored 11 points in the loss for Cromwell-Wright.

"This was not the best game of the season for us, but we had many memorable games this year," Gronner said. "One of the biggest highlights was winning the Cloquet holiday tournament, and beating Rock Ridge, which is going to the state basketball tournament in Class AAA."

Gronner will fondly recall the group.

"We have five seniors who have played together for many years and it's hard to see this group go," he said. "They were a great group who made my job easier as a coach."

The loss in the section finals saw the Cardinals end their season with a 21-8 overall record.

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