SLEEPY EYE - Tuesday's girls' basketball game between Sleepy Eye St. Mary's and Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City provided a good example of why it's a good idea to avoid getting into foul trouble.
With the two teams battling in a neck-and-neck game midway through the second half, St. Mary's benefitted from frequent ACGC fouls and built a lead that held up the rest of the way as the Knights earned a 57-44 Section 2A, North Sub-section tournament victory.
St. Mary's consistently led throughout the contest, but didn't hold a lead of more than seven points until Falcons' leading scorer Erica Melbie fouled out with 7:04 left in the game. From that point, the Knights immediately went on a 7-2 run and made their final eight free throws in a row to maintain a healthy buffer.
Staff photo by Steve Muscatello
Sleepy Eye St. Mary’s Jessica Schmitz takes a shot after driving past Katie Moore (33) of Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City during the second half of their Section 2A playoff game Tuesday at SESM.
"We capitalized on the free throw line, we got some transition baskets, we got the ball inside a bit in that stretch, too, and just kind of opened the lead up," St. Mary's head coach Bruce Woitas said. "I think we need to credit our defensive play probably more than anything for creating those opportunities offensively for us as well."
Neither team was able to get into a rhythm on offense in the first half, with the score tied at 4-4 after the first five minutes of play.
St. Mary's followed with a 7-0 run that included baskets by Jenna Hose and Maddy Helget and a 3-pointer by Devyn Meyer, but ACGC never went away. Melbie scored a pair of 3s for the Falcons and teammate Sydney Larson made a basket in the final few seconds of the first half to leave the Knights with a narrow 20-16 lead at halftime.
Early in the second half ACGC seized the momentum in the contest, with Melbie's second 3-pointer of the half giving ACGC its first lead of the contest at 28-26.
From that point, however, the Knights finally found their offensive stride, which coupled with ACGC's foul trouble spelled doom for the Falcons.
"We came together better and we saw each other better," St. Mary's senior Molly Schwartz said of her team's improvement in the second half. "We got better movement the second half. We were doing a lot of just one shots, and that wasn't working, so we capitalized really moving the ball around better."
After ACGC took its 28-26 lead, St. Mary's went on a 13-1 run. Melbie's fifth foul came midway through that stretch with St. Mary's holding a 34-29 advantage.
By the time Melbie fouled out, three of the Falcons' starters had already picked up their fourth fouls. A fourth starter, Shelby Schroeder, picked up her fourth foul with 5:21 left in the game and eventually fouled out.
Larson got hot for the Falcons late in the game, scoring 10 points in the final seven minutes to keep her team's hopes alive, but St. Mary's maintained relentless defensive pressure that prevented ACGC from going on a sustained run.
"Their rebounding and boxing out was really good," Schwartz said of the Falcons. "They had a couple of strong players that could drive and shoot, kind of do everything, all-around players. I think we did a pretty good job on our 'D' shutting them down."
Jessica Schmitz had a team-high 17 points for the Knights, including key baskets down the stretch that helped maintain her team's lead. Helget also played a crucial role late in the game, scoring eight points in the final 5:21 of the contest, including a 6-for-6 effort from the free throw line.
Schmitz and Hose highlighted an effective night on the boards for the Knights with 12 and 13 rebounds, respectively. Helget and Meyer each added six rebounds.
"We rebounded really well," Woitas said. "I thought Jenna Hose and Jessica Schmitz did a great job on the boards for us, and this time of the year you have to really dominate the boards."
Helget was second on the team with 12 points and also added three assists. Hose finished with 10 points, Meyer and Schwartz (three assists) had five points apiece and Kenzie Schutz and Nikki Carr (team-high four steals) each added four points. Schmitz led the team with three blocked shots.
Larson led the Falcons with 16 points and Melbie added 14 points.
With the victory, No. 3 seeded St. Mary's (17-9) advanced to the Section 2A, North Subsection semifinals, where it will meet No. 2 seeded Lester Prairie/Holy Trinity (22-5) at 8 p.m Friday in Glencoe.
"We said it all along, the section is going to be pretty balanced," Woitas said. "We're a decent team, we feel we can play with anybody, and I think we've proven that throughout the year. It really comes down to you have to play well every night out, and I thought tonight we started a little slow, but we finished like you should. With the seniors that we have and the juniors that we have, hopefully we can carry that momentum that we built tonight into the next game."