PREP GIRLS' BASKETBALL: Dragons advance with strong 2nd half
LUVERNE -- After falling behind by six points to Southwest Christian for the second time Tuesday night, Adrian utilized seven straight points from Karli Meyer to claim a lead the Dragons never relinquished in an exciting Section 3A South high school girls' basketball semifinal contest at the Luverne Elementary School gymnasium.
Once in the lead, the Dragons eventually extended the margin to 10 points, and then held off several gallant rallies by the Eagles, earning advancement to the sub-section title game with a 65-58 victory.
Adrian's win improved the second-seeded Dragons to a sparkling 22-5 on the campaign and sets up a third-time meeting between AHS and top-seeded Fulda at Marshall (Southwest Minnesota State University) Friday for the south sub-section championship.
The Raiders (22-6), who advanced with a convincing 76-50 win over fourth-seeded Westbrook-Walnut Grove in Tuesday's first semifinal game, defeated the Dragons twice in close games during the regular season -- 67-64 in overtime at Fulda (Jan. 4) and 58-53 at Adrian (Feb. 17).
"This is tournament basketball, so the two key words are win and advance," summed up veteran Adrian head coach Randy Strand, who earned his 400th career victory as a varsity girls' basketball coach midway through the campaign. "We are happy about winning this game and are looking forward to the opportunities that go along with advancing."
Friday's tipoff time is scheduled for 6 p.m.
Meyer celebrated her birthday in style, as she scored in a variety of ways all night long and finished with a game-high 31 points, netting 14 in the first half and tallying 17 more after intermission -- including seven in a row which took Adrian from a 34-28 deficit to a 35-34 edge.
"Karli had a great run for us there early in the second half," praised Strand. "She can score and the girls did a great job of getting her the ball."
De Ruyter sparks Eagles to early 16-10 lead
There were multiple lead changes throughout an evenly-played first half, but the third-seeded Eagles held the upper hand most of the time.
SWC's Megan De Ruyter, the only returning starter off of last year's sub-section and section championship team, scored nine points in the game's first seven minutes and 13 seconds, including a break-away layup -- after scooping up a loose ball -- which gave her team a 16-10 lead with 10:47 to play in the first half.
De Ruyter (four steals, four rebounds, team-high 14 points) had earlier scored on a drive after a steal, a pull-up jumper -- coming off a dandy head fake -- and on a right-wing 3-pointer.
The Dragons had taken a 10-9 lead on the strength of a pair of effective pick-and-roll plays (Sydne Springman to Meyer and Nichole Loosbrock to Austyn Thier).
A wide-open Thier took an inbounds pass from Springman (12 points, five assists) which trimmed the Eagles lead to 16-14 at the 10:12 mark.
A dazzling acceleration drive by SWC's Abby De Groot increased the Eagles' lead to four before Meyer answered with the first of two 3-pointers prior to intermission, making the score 18-17 with 8:28 on the clock.
SWC's Alexia Pater (12 points, two steals, team-high eight rebounds) countered for the Eagles and Meyer scored on a drive before the Dragons took a 21-20 lead at the 5:33 mark when Springman again found a wide-open Thier for an easy score.
The Eagles quickly took the lead back when Hannah Van Dyke (six points, three rebounds, three steals, three assists) passed to Alexia Pater for a score and a 22-21 advantage.
Meyer then banked in a contested 3-pointer and the Dragons held a 24-22 edge with 4:28 left in the first half.
A nifty shot off the glass by SWC's Deidra Vander Woude (eight points, five rebounds, two steals, two assists) tied the score before Springman knocked down a 3-pointer which gave Adrian a 27-24 lead.
The Eagles, however, finished the half on a strong 8-1 run, getting another basket by Vander Woude, four straight points from Amber Pater and another hoop by Alexia Pater (assist Van Dyke) to take a 32-28 edge into intermission.
Meyer starts Adrian's second-half surge
A baseline pull-up jumper by De Ruyter lifted Southwest Christian to its second six-point lead (34-28) 25 seconds into the second half.
Neither team scored for the next two minutes as the Eagles maintained their six-point cushion.
But at the 15:26 mark, Meyer (off a pick-and-roll with Springman) converted a three-point play.
Meyer's jumper in the lane, 46 seconds later, brought the Dragons within one, 34-33,
Loosbrock (four rebounds, game-high nine assists) passed to Meyer down low and her shot high off the glass, put Adrian ahead, 35-34, with 14:08 to play in the game.
It was a lead the Dragons never gave up.
For the third time in the contest, Springman found Thier (12 points) in scoring position and Adrian had a three-point lead.
Alexia Pater scored for the Eagles, but Rachel Kontz passed inside to Shaina Lonneman (four rebounds) for a basket and a 39-36 Adrian edge with 12:11 on the clock.
Van Dyke netted a pair of free throws, closing the gap to one.
Meyer (12 rebounds) passed to Springman for an Adrian basket, increasing the lead back to three.
Vander Woude hit Amber Pater in the lane for a quick Eagle basket, but with the score at 41-40, the Dragons opened up the contest with a 9-0 run from the 11:02 mark until there was 8:30 showing.
Meyer's jumper was followed by a long-range 2-pointer by Loosbrock -- following a loose ball pick up -- which gave Adrian its biggest lead (so far) at 45-40.
A pair of free throws by Thier increased the lead to seven, and then -- after neither team scored for 1:25 -- Springman (assist Hailee Heitkamp) swished a 3-pointer, giving the Dragons a 50-40 advantage.
"We got some defensive stops and we hit some shots," said Strand about Adrian's surge. "We started doing the fundamental things better which we weren't doing so well in the first half."
Key shot blocks by Thier, Springman and Meyer were a big part of those defensive stops which Strand referred to.
Eagles rally, close gap to four, but Dragons respond with key plays
The Eagles, who had missed several chances to extend their leads earlier in the game, rallied one more time in the closing minutes, trimming the margin to four (59-55) with 1:41 left.
A pair of free throws by Vander Woude ended the SWC scoring drought and then the quick hands of Van Dyke (steal) led to a bounce pass to Amber Pater for a score, slicing the lead to 50-44.
Springman made a free throw for a seven-point Adrian lead, but a tough jumper in traffic by Vander Woude trimmed it to five inside of six minutes.
Loosbrock found Meyer on the press-breaker for a score and a 53-46 Dragon advantage.
Van Dyke scored for the Eagles, but Loosbrock found Thier on another press-breaker and AHS was leading 55-48 with just over five minutes left.
Two free throws by Amber Pater, at the 4:52 mark, cut the lead to five.
Fifty-seven seconds later, Heitkamp (assist Loosbrock) hit a clutch left-wing perimeter shot, making the score 57-50.
After a free throw by SWC's Kaci Mouw (six rebounds), Heitkamp came through again as she delivered a perfect lead bounce pass to a rolling Thier down the lane, increasing Adrian's lead to 59-51 with 3:13 to play.
Another bank shot by Vander Woude sliced the gap to six and then with 1:41 left, De Groot's jump shot brought the Eagle fans to their feet, as the lead was trimmed to 59-55.
Following an Adrian timeout, Meyer scored on a well-executed inbounds play (assist Springman) to give AHS another six-point edge.
After a pair of free throws by Meyer and one by Loosbrock, De Ruyter banked in a long 3-pointer and the score was 64-58 with 29 seconds left.
Another free throw by Loosbrock completed the scoring.
"I am awfully proud of my girls and how well they executed our game plan," summarized SWC head coach Denise Nerem about the effort of her team. "We would have like to have made more of our 'bunnies' underneath and shot free throws a little better. But we did a lot of good things in this game and throughout our season.
"Adrian has a great team and did what they needed to do down the stretch to win the game."
The Eagles finish what should have been a "rebuilding year" with a 13-10 record and only lose three seniors -- Mouw, De Groot and Alexia Pater.
SW Christian 32 26 -- 58
Adrian 28 37 -- 65
Southwest Christian (3FG-2FG-FT-TP) Van Dyke 0-2-2-6, De Ruyter 2-4-0-14, De Groot 0-3-0-6, Amber Pater 0-3-5-11, Vander Woude 0-3-2-8, Alexia Pater 0-6-0-12, Mouw 0-0-1-1. Totals 2-21-10-58.
Adrian (3FG-2FG-FT-TP) Heitkamp 0-1-0-2, Loosbrock 0-1-2-4, Springman 2-2-2-12, Thier 0-5-2-12, Lonneman 0-2-0-4, Meyer 2-9-7-31. Totals 4-20-13-65.