NEW ULM - Thursday's girls' basketball game between New Ulm and St. James Area began like a long-distance race, with neither team able to break from the pack in the early going.
The Saints disrupted the back-and-forth rhythm of the game with a 17-6 run midway through the second half, which turned out to be just enough of a buffer to allow the visitors to hold on for a 53-45 South Central Conference victory.
"Our girls played pretty well," St. James head coach Adam Schroeder said. "We put the ball in the hoop in the second half and we came out with a little different defense, and I think that gave us a chance for some easy buckets down there."
Staff photo by Steve Muscatello
New Ulm’s Elizabeth Rummel (35) and Aryn Eckstrom of St. James reach for a rebound during the first half Thursday at NUHS.
The first half was a neck-and-neck affair throughout, with the Eagles holding the biggest lead of the half at 16-10.
New Ulm freshman Nicole Dittrich scored the first basket of the game, but neither team held a lead of greater than three points until Kelsey Anderson scored her third basket to put the Eagles ahead 13-9.
A long 2-pointer by New Ulm junior Molly Shaul that circled the rim an absurd number of times before falling brought up the 16-10 score with five minutes remaining before halftime.
"I was very impressed with how we came out and played," New Ulm head coach Matthew Dick said. "We came out, they were focused, they knew what they had to do. They ran the game plan perfect, they did a nice job. I think we just got tired, physically and mentally, and that caught up with us."
The Saints rallied before the half, with a pair of free throws apiece from Emily Hurley and Emily Bottem and a basket by Brenda Cervantes tying the game at 16-16.
The Eagles edged ahead 21-20 at the break after sophomore Briana Sieve converted two free throws on a one-and-one attempt.
Anderson finished with eight of her team-high 10 points in the half. She exhibited some sharp shooting by hitting three of her shots from just inside the 3-point line.
"They were playing us high - we had to fake and go around, and then it was a wide open shot every time," Anderson said. "Anybody could have done it, it wasn't just me."
Hurley spurred the Saints with seven points in the half. Though St. James was held to just six field goals in the first half by New Ulm's full-court press, Hurley provided a spark with her aggressive play under the basket, making five of her points from the free throw line.
"Emily Hurley, she came out and she dominated inside, which she needs to do," Schroeder said. "When that happens, it opens up other things, too."
Sieve scored the first basket of the second half, but St. James freshman Allison Brandts followed with a pair of buckets to give her team a 24-23 lead.
The Saints kept the lead until a 3-pointer by Dittrich tied the game at 28-28 with just more than 12 minutes left to play.
From there, Saints freshman Julia Beckius scored nine of her team's next 15 points, capping the run by making a contested 3-pointer.
New Ulm's Taylor Bolduan hit a 3-pointer to make the score 36-33 midway through Beckius' scoring stretch, but that was as close as the score would get the rest of the way.
After Beckius' 3-pointer, Brandts followed with a basket to make the score 45-34 in the Saints' favor with six minutes left on the clock.
"We have a hard time coming back from runs," Dick said. "We don't score the basketball enough to be able to mount a comeback when something like that happens. I just saw that for a quick moment there our shoulders kind of sank... we didn't sag our shoulders long, but it was long enough that they extended it a little bit farther than we could overcome."
The Eagles didn't go down quietly, not allowing the Saints to increase their lead any further than 12 points, but the visitors were able to maintain a buffer of at least nine points until Sieve scored the final basket of the game.
Beckius led the Saints with 11 points, which were all scored in the second half. Brandts and Hurley each had 10 points for St. James and Cervantes added eight points.
Anderson led the Eagles with 10 points, with Hunter Ahlness and Dittrich each adding nine points. Sieve finished with eight points and Ellie Schneider contributed four points.
St. James (2-12, 2-5) will host Luverne at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday.
New Ulm (0-15, 0-7) won't play again until Jan. 31, when the team will travel to play Waseca.
"We've got to carry it out throughout the whole game, we can't have our breaks where we fall apart and don't know what we're doing," Anderson said of the key to success for the Eagles against Waseca. "We've got to stick through that the whole two halves, throughout the whole game."
The game will include the first stage of a two-part fundraising and awareness campaign for cancer research that the two teams are collaborating on, with the second stage to take place when the Eagles host the Bluejays on Feb. 11.