Class 3A will have a new state champion.
Estherville-Lincoln Central saw to that, knocking off defending champion Unity Christian with an impressive 57-44 semifinal victory. Fourth-seeded ELC jumped out front early and never trailed, eventually building a 21-point lead before holding off a late charge by the Knights.
Now it’s on to the finals at 8 p.m. Friday, the school’s first appearance in the championship game since a runner-up finish in 2013. ELC (25-2) also finished second in 1999 and 2011 and won the six-player title in 1982.
Top-seeded Unity Christian (24-2) had been seeking its fourth state championship and fifth appearance in the title game. But shooting woes and ball-handling problems doomed the Knights, whose only other loss was to Class 4A semifinalist Bishop Heelan in the season opener.
Steady guard Kaitlyn Tendal led ELC with 22 points. She went 5-for-9 from the field and sank 10-of-12 free throws, including 8-of-10 in the final 2:49, when the Knights had to foul to try to get the ball back.
Jordyn Stokes added 13 points for the winners and Haylee Stokes scored 11 to go with five assists and four steals. ELC came up with 16 steals in all and forced 19 turnovers.
A key for ELC was stopping Gracie Schoonhoven, an all-tournament selection last year. She came in averaging 25.5 points, but ELC held her to five shots and four points.
Tyra Schuiteman led the Knights with 14 points and eight rebounds. Casey Dekkers added 11 points and Jenna Bouma scored eight to go with six rebounds.
Unity Christian swept through its three state tournament opponents last year by an average margin of 20 points. But the Knights never got much going in this one until it was too late and ended up shooting just 37 percent.
ELC used a 12-2 run to open a 33-12 lead late in the second quarter and led 33-15 at halftime. The lead grew to 42-22 before the Knights began chipping away.
Schuiteman’s 3-pointer cut the lead to 48-39 and the Knights trailed just 48-42 when Becca Dykstra banked in a 3 from the top of the key with 2:27 left. But turnovers on the next two possessions stunted the comeback and ELC made its free throws to finish it off.