SLEEPY EYE - The Sleepy Eye St. Mary's girls' basketball team sure knew how to make a comeback in its Tomahawk Conference match-up against Cedar Mountain/Comfrey on Thursday.
The Knights rallied from 11 points down on two separate occasions in the contest, then held on in a tense finish for a 55-53 victory.
"We left some at the free throw line tonight throughout the game - at the end as well, too - that would have maybe helped us, but overall I thought our girls really played hard tonight, fought hard, rebounded hard, and it was just a nice win for us again," St. Mary's head coach Bruce Woitas said.
The Cougars led 26-15 with six minutes left in the first half and led 45-34 with 10 minutes remaining in the game. However, CM/C managed to score just eight points the rest of the way, including a 1-for-6 performance from the free throw line down the stretch.
Both teams struggled to hit free throws in the game, with the Knights shooting 10-for-28 from the line and the Cougars shooting 7-for-20.
The game began on even footing, with the score tied at 9-9 before CM/C put together a 17-6 run to make the score 26-15.
"We were able to get it in to our post, and she made some nice moves underneath the basket," CM/C head coach Mike Kelly said. "Then when they doubled down we were able to kick it out and get some good open looks on the outside."
From that point, St. Mary's seized the momentum and launched a 13-2 run that tied the game at 28-28. A free throw by Andrea Ochs gave the Cougars a 29-28 lead entering halftime.
St. Mary's struggled to make its shots early in the game, though senior Maddy Helget kept the Knights in the game by scoring 15 of her team's first 17 points. She ended up with 20 points in the first half, with teammate Jenna Hose adding six points in the half.
"She's our offensive leader, she's the person that we've got to count on every night and then hope others join her along the way," Woitas said of Helget.
Helget's teammates did end up joining her in the second half, with six Knights registering points before Helget scored in the half.
However, the Cougars recovered from their lapse late in the first half and began the second half on a 16-6 run.
Once again the Knights responded, with Kenzie Schutz capping another 13-2 St. Mary's run with a basket to tie the game at 47-47, from which point the Knights didn't trail again.
The Cougars were severely hampered by foul trouble down the stretch, with the team ending up with 15 fouls in the second half. St. Mary's made just enough free throws as a result of the fouls to stay ahead.
"It just puts us in a bind, because we can only go so deep, I guess," Kelly said. "It hurts us both offensively and defensively, because we've got to move people into positions they're not used to playing. We never usually get this far into foul trouble, but I guess we've got to learn from this and move on."
CM/C senior Alli Madsen made a big 3-pointer to tie the game at 52-52 with 1:20 remaining, but Helget responded my making a short jumper to give her team the lead for good.
At the end of the game the Cougars received the ball with eight seconds remaining, but they were unable to get a shot off before the final buzzer.
"I'd say we hustled pretty well, it's just fouls and defense that we need to work on, I think," CM/C forward Haley Weidman said.
Helget finished with 27 points for the Knights and also had three assists. Hose had a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds, Schutz had five points, Jessica Schmitz had four points and eight rebounds and Molly Schwartz earned three steals.
Andrew Ochs led the Cougars with 14 points, with Madsen adding 10 points. Also making top contributions for CM/C were Weidman (seven points,10 rebounds), Courtney Nelsen (eights points), Brianna Lund (eight points, six rebounds), Emily Ochs (four points, six rebounds, three steals) and Karliana Kelly (three points, seven rebounds).
"I think it gets us ready for playoffs," Coach Kelly said of the close loss. "It's good to play a lot of close ones, and we've been in a lot of close games. We've been winning them of late, but now we've lost a couple close ones in a row. Hopefully it makes our kids hungry to win the next one."
CM/C (13-8, 9-5) will play a pair of tough road games against Red Rock Central on Monday and Minnesota Valley Lutheran on Tuesday.
St. Mary's (13-7, 9-5) will host New Ulm Cathedral on Monday and will host Gibbon-Fairfax-Winthrop on Thursday.
"With the win against MVL [on Feb. 4], and now against Cedar Mountain, hopefully we can come out again on Monday with another win so we can hopefully get a home game for playoffs and continue into the playoffs strong," Schmitz said.