MINNEAPOLIS – Watertown-Mayer’s Senior Kirstin Klitzke knew she was only 15 points away from her 2,000th career point coming into the Royals’ matchup with Rochester Lourdes. Although she knew that milestone was in reach, she was too busy focused on winning the game that she didn’t realize she already reached it with 10 minutes and 53 seconds left to go in the game.
“I knew it coming in,” Klitzke said. “I kind of forgot about it, and then the crowd got really loud. That’s when I knew.”
Not only did Klitzke record her 2,000th career point, she also helped lead the Royals to their first state tournament semifinals appearance with a game-high 23 points and six assists in their 71-58 win over the Eagles in the Class AA state quarterfinals Wednesday night.
It wasn’t easy for the Royals though, as they struggled shooting the ball in the early going. The Royals missed their first three shots of the game and had two turnovers on their first five possessions.
“It was definitely weird,” Monika Czinano said about the atmosphere and getting used to the court at Mariucci Arena. “Coming from Watertown, which is a tiny school, our stands are always full, but they’re not nearly filled to this capacity. It was definitely a change, but I think we adapted really well to it.”
After shaking off the slow start, Czinano began to get things going for the Royals inside. With the game tied at nine, Claire Killian picked up her second foul and was forced to sit for the rest of the half.
“I knew that one of our better players is off the court,” Klitzke said about the team playing most of the first half without Killian. “So, that means everyone has to step up their game, and we all have to play as a team and work together, and we did that. We rebounded, we pushed the ball, we reversed it, and we got those wide-open looks, and that’s what kept us in this game.”
With Killian’s absence, the Royals got big minutes off the bench from Maggie Czinano, Emma Maas, Olyvia Schroeder, and Grace Knutson.
“Good minutes by the bench all night,” Royals coach John Rosholt said. “The whole bench did a spectacular job. Kirstin and Monika did a good job scoring for us, but it was a good contribution from everybody.”
It was Knutson who made the most of her playing time with Killian on the bench. In 23 minutes on the court, Knutson was everywhere, making plays for the Royals. She finished with eight rebounds, four of which were on the offensive end, that gave the Royals extra chances.
“I know my part, and I know that I’m not a huge scorer,” Knutson said about her mindset. “I just help out my team as much as I can by getting in there and getting rebounds, so that we have more opportunities to get up and beat the other teams.”
Knutson, at just 5-foot-6, scored just two points, but came down with several offensive rebounds that resulted in easy second-chance points for the Royals.
“I have to use all of my body, and I don’t get away with anything,” Knutson said. “So, I just have to make sure that I’m in there nice and strong, and get good position in there.”
With the Royals leading by just two at the break thanks to Klitzke knocking down a big 3-pointer shortly before the buzzer to end the first half, the Royals entered the locker room with a little momentum.
Klitzke stayed hot in the second half, knocking down another one of her five 3-pointers, which also gave her 2,000 for her career.
“The feeling is unreal,” Klitzke said about reaching 2,000 career points at the state tournament. “I couldn’t have done it without my teammates and us getting this far. To be able to experience my 2,000th career point at the state tournament, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I couldn’t be happier.”
The Eagles didn’t go away easy though. A hot start for the Eagles had them ahead 41-34 with 14:36 to go. That’s when Killian put aside a frustrating first half, and played the game she knew she could play.
“It really hits when you get that second foul and you realize that you might be sitting for a while,” Killian said about the difficulties of her having to sit for most of the first half. But I also have a lot of faith in the rest of my team. I knew that without me, they still would be strong. Coming out in the second half, I was just ready to go.”
With the game tied at 46, that’s when Killian and the Royals took over. Killian, who scored 19 of her 22 points in the second half, led the Royals on an 11-0 run to distance themselves from the Eagles.
Like in the section title game, the Royals were clutch from the free throw down the stretch, sealing the win, and advancing to the state semifinals for the first time in school history.
“It’s crazy. Just to think that no Watertown girls’ team has ever made it this far,” Killian said. “We’re making history right now. It’s an incredible feeling right now to be a part of this team.”
Future Hawkeye Czinano recorded her straight double-double with a 20-point, 16-rebound performance.
The Royals will face No. 2 Sauk Centre in the Class AA semifinals Friday night at 8 p.m. at the Williams Arena.
“That’s going to be so cool,” Czinano said about playing at The Barn. “Like, watching the Gophers as a little girl, and then going and playing on their court, it’s going to be amazing. I just have to let it sink in right now.”
“That’s crazy,” Killian said about reaching the semifinals and having their game being on live television. “It’s a little bit surreal right now. I still got to let it sink in. I think once we get there and get on the court, I’ll be like, oh my gosh, it’s actually happening. Right now, I’m just going to let this win sink in a little bit.”
Saul Centre defeated Minnehaha Academy in the Class AA quarterfinals. The Mainstreeters found themselves trailing big early, but rallied back to advance to the Class AA semifinals where they will face the Royals.
“They’re a good team,” Rosholt said. “They got a lot of experience. They can dribble drive to the rim, and they can shoot the ball extremely well. They got down big early tonight against Minnehaha, but they’re so poised and so experienced. That’s going to be big for us if we can match their poise.”
CLASS AA STATE QUARTERFINALS
No. 3 Watertown-Mayer 71, Rochester Lourdes 58
ROCHESTER LOURDES: 28;20–58
ROCHESTER LOURDES: Madison Berg 5, Alyssa Ustby 15, Eleanor Plager 6, Wynter Bergner 17, Megan Hobday 9, Grace Rogers 3, Josie Hansen 3.
WATERTOWN-MAYER: Kirstin Klitzke 23, Emma Ragner 2, Claire Killian 22, Monika Czinano 20, Sarah Zuelkzke 2, Grace Knutson 2.
Class AA State Quarterfinals Scores:
No. 1 Roseau 82, NRHEG 64
No. 2 Sauk Centre 74, Minnehaha Academy 65
No. 3 Watertown-Mayer 71, Rochester Lourdes 58
No. 4 NL-S 48, Esko 43
Class AA State Semifinal Matchups:
No. 1 Roseau vs. No. 4 New London-Spicer, 6 p.m. at Williams Arena
No. Sauk Centre vs. No. 3 Watertown-Mayer, 8 pm. at Williams Arena
Follow Kip Kovar on Twitter @Kovar_HJSports