Girls basketball: Trojans surge late, ground Eagles
WORTHINGTON — Two teams with storied traditions in high school girls’ basketball —each with impressive current winning streaks — squared off Monday evening at the WHS gymnasium in a classic non-conference clash.
Both the Worthington Trojans and Southwest Minnesota Christian Eagles were represented in the first full-fledged girls’ state tournament in March of 1976 — and each school has had its share of conference championships and 20-plus win seasons.
Southwest entered Monday’s contest riding an eight-game winning streak. The Trojans came in with nine consecutive victories.
As many expected, the contest was a dandy.
While, the host Trojans were ahead most of the game, it took a late 11-0 burst to turn the tide their way and claim a 63-52 victory, improving Worthington’s overall record to a simmering 13-1 — and extending the streak to 10 games.
The Eagles, who rallied from several first-half double-digit deficits to earn a four-point lead with 10:24 remaining in the game, lost for the first time since a decisive 68-37 setback by defending Class A state champion Minneota on the Vikings’ court Jan. 2.
That loss put SWC at 2-3 for the season. But since then, the Eagles (10-4) have been sprouting their wings — soaring to eight straight wins, including several impressive wins over quality teams.
The game was a great challenge for the Trojans, who have not lost since a 75-55 drubbing by Marshall (Dec. 12) on their home court in the team’s fourth game of the season.
“We played well. We had too,” summed up WHS head coach Eric Lindner. “We had a lot of turnovers and missed many shots, but our effort was there and we did the things we needed to do get a win over a nice team.”
Paige Gravenhof sparks Trojans early; Tianna Top leads Eagles
The first several minutes of each half were in stark contrast.
Each team scored freely at the game’s beginning, while both clubs — especially, the Trojans — struggled to score points in the early going of the second half.
Worthington, which took a 32-28 lead into intermission, was fueled in the game’s first eight minutes by senior guard-forward Paige Gravenhof, a veteran performer who always hustles.
Gravenhof, who has been in a bit of a shooting slump in recent games, was impressive from long range Monday.
She fired in a long — and high-arching — three-pointer from left wing which gave WHS a 13-10 edge at the 12:12 mark of the first half. Just over two minutes later, she took a pass from senior guard Abbie Landgaard and drilled a trey from the right corner, lifting the Trojans to a 16-12 lead.
Meanwhile, the Eagles had stayed close behind the scoring, rebounding and shot blocking ability of 6-2 junior center Tianna Top, who netted eight of SWC’s first 12 points.
A versatile player, Top connected on the Eagles’ only three-pointer of the night — from the right wing with 14:34 on the first-half clock —giving her team a 10-8 advantage.
Gravenhof, who started the game with a deep three-pointer from the left corner (assist from Ana Boever) with just 19 seconds off the clock, fired a nifty pass inside to junior center Apiew Alwal for a bucket which tied the score at 10.
Gravenhof’s second and third treys of the opening minutes were followed by a driving hoop by Landgaard (10 points, six assists) and a quick steal and layup from Gravenhof (team-high 17 points, three steals, three asssits) which put WHS up by eight, 20-12, with 8:30 remaining in the first half.
A puback bucket by Alwal and Alwal’s nifty inside lob pass to Becca Linder stretched the Trojan lead to 24-13 less than two minutes later.
Eagles finish first half with strong run, slice lead to three points
Just when it began to look like the Trojans may be on the verge on blowing the game open — as they have done to most teams this season — the Eagles, who run the floor well and have the ability to pass the ball with precision, mounted a strong comeback.
Trailing 31-21 with two minutes left in the half, the Eagles scored seven straight points — with 5-10 junior guard Savannah Tinklenberg as the catalyst.
Tinklenberg, who missed the first part of the season with an ACL injury (incurred in summer basketball in early June), made a free throw, fired a perfect lead pass to teammate Hope Veldkamp for a layup, blocked a shot, came up with a steal and passed ahead again to Veldkamp for a breakaway bucket.
The results of that sequence, sparked by those several plays by Tinklenberg (seven points, team-high 12 rebounds, four steals, two blocks, two assists) sliced Worthington’s lead to 31-26.
The Eagles capped off the rally when sophomore forward Kassydi Vreeman rifled a sharp pass to a wide-open Ann Pater for an easy basket and a 31-28 score with 41 seconds remaining.
Gravenhof, who did a little bit of everything, was fouled while setting a screen and stopped the Eagles surge with a free throw (18 seconds left) to send the Trojans into intermission with a four-point lead.
“I am so proud of my girls and how hard they competed,” summed up Eagles’ head coach Denise Nerem. “Every game as its highs and lows —that stretch (at the end of the first half) was a high for us.”
Eagles continue playing well in second half
Vreeman took an inbounds pass from Veldkamp (three assists) and sank a 15-footer to start the second-half scoring — which didn’t come until the 16:25 mark.
Later, Pater’s pass to Veldkamp tied the score (33-33) with 13:59 showing, as the Trojans had not made a field goal in over four minutes.
Landgaard responded with a runner 25 seconds later, giving the Trojans the lead back and a putback by Gravenhof made it 37-34.
The Eagles countered with a 7-0 run, as Pater (nine points, eight rebounds, three steals) converted off a nifty move down low (assist Top) to start the surge.
Pater made one of two free throws to tie the score and then fired a great pass to Vreeman (nine points, 11 rebounds, two assists, two steals) which gave the Eagles a 39-37 lead with 11:06 to play.
Tinklenberg sank two free throws 42 seconds later and SWC was up 41-37, capping a 20-6 run over a span of less than 10 minutes (the last two minutes of the first half and the first 7:36 of the second).
Trojans respond, tie score twice before 11-0 run puts them up 57-46
Starting with a hard-driving three-point play by Boever (nine points, nine rebounds, nine steals, four blocks), the Trojans scored 20 of the game’s next 25 points and took command.
Brooke Henning scored inside (assist Gravenhof) to tie the score at 42-all and added a putback for a 44-42 WHS lead at the 9:01 mark.
The Eagles tied the score on a dandy play which went from Veldkamp to Vreeman to Pater.
The left-handed Boever tallied a right-handed shot in the lane for a 46-44 Trojan edge and Vreeman’s offensive rebound bucket tied the score again.
A free throw by Henning (12 points, 10 rebounds), two free throws by Apiew Alwal (six points, six rebounds) and a basket from Henning quickly put WHS up by five, 51-46, with 7:03 to go.
Two free throws from Landgaard and another hard drive by Boever stretched the lead to nine and Gravenhof’s layup (assist Landgaard) capped the game-winning 11-0 Worthington run.
The Trojans played smart during the remaning 5:40 and stayed in control.
SWC’s Alexis Knutson made a free throw at the 5:05 mark, putting an end to the Eagles’ scoring lull and Top (16 points, 10 rebounds, four blocks, four steals, two assists) sank a pair to bring her team within eight.
But, Landgaard scored a huge basket for the Trojans with a right-sided drive and drained a pair from the line — to offset an inside basket by Tinklenberg.
With 2:47 to play, the Trojans owned a 61-52 lead.
Worthington then did an excellent job of controlling the clock with its well-organized delay game and left the gym with with the 11-point win.
“I thought, we played with good energy down the stretch,” concluded Lindner. “The girls played smart.”
Becca Linder, who snagged nine rebounds, sank two key free throws for the Trojans in the final minute.
SW Christian 28 52
Worthington 32 63
SWC (3FG-2FG-FT-TP) Veldkamp 0-3-1-7, Pater 0-3-3-9, Vreeman 0-4-1-9, Knutson 0-0-2-2, Tinklenberg 0-2-3-7, Talsma 0-1-0-2, Top 1-3-7-16. Totals 1-16-17-52.
WHS (3FG-2FG-FT-TP) Boever 0-4-1-9, Landgaard 0-3-4-10, Henning 0-5-2-12, Linder 0-1-3-5, Gravenhof 3-3-2-17, Ac. Alwal 0-2-0-4, Ap. Alwal 0-2-2-6. Totals 3-20-14-63.