NEW ULM - Just when Friday's girls' basketball game between New Ulm Cathedral and Sleepy Eye St. Mary's appeared to be settling into a low-scoring battle, Greyhounds senior Paige Pautzke suddenly gave her team a much-needed offensive surge.
Pautzke broke open a close game with three straight 3-pointers early in the second half - a stretch that accounted for one fifth of her team's points in the contest - as Cathedral held off a resilient St. Mary's team for a 45-36 Tomahawk Conference victory.
Pautzke scored a team-high 16 points, including 12 points in the second half.
Staff photo by Steve Muscatello
Sleepy Eye St. Mary’s Jamie Marti (left) grabs a rebound as New Ulm Cathedral’s Anne Schwarz looks on Friday at CHS.
"Coming out right after halftime it was a one-point difference, so we just knew we had to come out hard," Pautzke said. "I just wanted to help my team out. We needed it, we needed to come out strong in the second half, and I'm just glad I could contribute to that."
After taking a 2-0 lead following a pair of free throws by Molly Schwartz, the Knights never held another lead in the game.
The Greyhounds' offense was in sync early on, opening up a 10-2 advantage six minutes into the contest before St. Mary's rallied to narrow the gap to 18-17 at halftime.
Neither team was able to get into much of an offensive rhythm in the first half, with each team's defense giving very few open looks to the other team. There were almost as many jump ball calls in the half as there were baskets made from the field, with each team showing great hustle in tracking down loose balls.
In the final seconds of the first half, the Knights missed a pair of shots right under the basket that would have given them the lead. St. Mary's missed its opening shot in the second half as well before Pautzke helped shift the momentum back to the Greyhounds.
Cathedral junior Karlee Pfaff scored the opening basket of the second half, after which Pautzke took the stage with her hot 3-point shooting.
At the end of Pautzke's run, Cathedral was ahead 29-17. The Knights were unable to cut their deficit to any fewer than six points the rest of the way.
"They came out and got a quick lead in the first half, then they came out and did the same thing in the second half, and we just had to battle back in both halves," St. Mary's head coach Bruce Woitas said. "We missed some opportunities to have some buckets go in, and they made some free throws at the end. But the kids played hard, that's all you ask for right now."
Although the Knights struggled most of the night to find the basket, a strong offensive night from senior Devyn Meyer helped keep them in the game.
Meyer scored the final five points of the first half on a 3-pointer and a pair of made free throws to cap a 12-4 St. Mary's run entering halftime. She added a pair of 3s and a long 2-pointer in the second half, finishing with a team-high 13 points.
"I've felt like I've been off for a couple of games, and tonight [my shots] finally started falling, so that was good," Meyer said. "It was a really good feeling."
St. Mary's senior Maddy Helget made two 3s in the first half, but she was limited to just two points in the second half, seldom finding herself with an uncontested shot.
"The second half I thought our defense really had some key stops," Cathedral head coach Mary Dengerud said. "Lisa Helget did a good job on Maddy [Helget], and the team was together. We had our moments when there was some miscommunication, but overall I thought we played hard a rebounded well."
Pfaff finished with 10 points for the Greyhounds, with all of her points scored in the second half. Lisa Helget had seven points, eight rebounds and five steals for Cathedral, Anne Schwartz had six points, 10 rebounds and two assists and Pautzke had a team-high four assists.
Lindsay Simon and Leah Krzmarzick rounded out the Greyhounds' scoring with three points apiece.
Maddy Helget finished with eight points for the Knights, with other top contributions for the team coming from Jessica Schmitz (five points, nine rebounds) and Jenna Hose (four points, 10 rebounds, three steals). Molly Schwartz, Nikki Carr (three assists) and Kenzie Schutz (three steals) each finished with two points.
The Greyhounds improved to 9-2 overall and 6-1 in conference play with the win.
"It should really help us in the coming games," Pautzke said of the momentum gained from Friday's victory. "We have a pretty tough schedule coming up, so it should help us."
Cathedral will host Minnesota Valley Lutheran on Tuesday in a match-up of the conference's top two teams.
"We're very confident - we're ready for them, we're very excited to play them," Pautzke said.
St. Mary's (7-6, 3-4) will travel to play Gibbon-Fairfax-Winthrop on Tuesday.
"I think we just need to work more on our offense," Meyer said. "Rebounding, definitely, and just work together as a team, and make sure we are looking at everyone and passing around as much as we can."