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SWC holds off RRC, 69-66

Brian Korthals/Daily Globe Southwest Christian's Angie Vermeer (21) shoots over Red Rock Central's Emily Neperman during Tuesday night's Section 3A South playoff game in Luverne.

LUVERNE -- A 12-2 surge in a near three-minute span gave third-seeded Southwest Christian a 12-point lead with 4:13 left to play Tuesday night, and the Eagles survived a furious late-game comeback from second-seeded Red Rock Central to claim a thrilling 69-66 victory over the Falcons in the semifinals of the Section 3A South girls' basketball tournament.

SWC, which has won 12 of its last 13 games and is now 19-5 overall, advances to the Section 3A title game Friday night. The Eagles will take on the top-seeded Adrian Dragons at SMSU in Marshall at 6 p.m.

"I'm really proud of my girls, as they showed a lot of mental toughness and perseverance tonight," SWC head coach Denise Nerem said after the game. "We didn't take care of the ball very well tonight, but we did get it inside and also rebounded very well. RRC deserves a lot of credit, too, as they have a fantastic team."

RRC, which finishes its season with a 22-4 record, rallied from a 59-47 deficit in the final 4:13 of the second half and trailed by just one point (67-66) with 19 seconds remaining following a deep 3-pointer in the right corner from senior Krystle Sell -- who fired in 16 points in each half for a game-high 32 points.

Sell's shot capped a 19-8 Falcons' burst, which was started by back-to-back mid-range shots from sophomore Alyssa Fredrickson and junior Stephanie Maras (six points) 12 seconds apart to make it 59-51 at the 3:50 mark

RRC was later within five (61-56) at the 1:43 mark thanks to an 18-foot swisher from the left wing by junior Jenna Smith (six points) and a driving basket and a free throw (three-point play) from senior Thea Engen (seven points, six rebounds).

SWC's Brianna Spronk, a senior who scored a team-best 25 points and grabbed seven rebounds, sank a pair of free throws four seconds after taking a charge on the defensive end to give the Eagles a 63-56 lead with 1:14 to play.

After a free throw apiece from Fredrickson and Eagle senior Angie Vermeer (eight rebounds) made it 64-57, Sell buried a long 3-pointer from the right wing to bring RRC within four (64-60) with 41 seconds left.

Spronk, who was 9-for-10 from the free-throw line (all in the second half), netted a pair of foul shots to make it 66-60 four seconds later, but RRC again had an answer -- this time from senior Emily Neperman (five points, four steals), who drained a 3-pointer in the left corner to create a three-point spread (66-63) with 29 seconds left.

Junior Kayla Broekhuis (17 points, seven steals) gave SWC a 67-63 lead with a free throw with 23.9 seconds to go, and Sell responded with her 3-pointer in the right corner on the ensuing possession.

Out of timeouts and forced to foul, RRC sent Broekhuis to the free-throw line with 14.9 seconds left. Broekhuis drilled both shots to put the Eagles up 69-66, and the Falcons came right back with another good look from behind the arc.

Neperman's 3-point attempt from the right wing rattled in-and-out, and Vermeer secured the rebound with 4.2 seconds left.

However, Vermeer was off the mark on both shots -- giving RRC one last chance. But the Falcons committed one of their 27 turnovers as time expired, and the Eagles escaped with the exciting victory.

"It wasn't too pretty and it's a challenge playing against a team like SWC, but you can't say our girls didn't hustle or play hard," RRC head coach Jeff Shaner said. "We had too many turnovers and didn't rebound the ball very well tonight, but we had some chances and certainly showed a lot of heart by coming back like we did."

While the Falcons committed 27 turnovers, they also forced 27 turnovers by the Eagles. SWC, though, held a commanding 40-22 advantage on the boards, including several offensive rebounds that led to multiple second chances.

SWC got four consecutive defensive stops to start the game and scored on its first four possessions, bolting out to a quick 8-0 lead with 15:36 left in the first half.

Spronk scored in transition and went coast-to-coast for a layup in the first 1:03, while Broekhuis swished an 18-footer from out top at the 15:43 mark and converted a steal in the backcourt into a layup seven seconds later to spark the Eagles.

The Eagles stayed in control and had a 14-8 lead following a put-back basket by junior Vayla Van Dyke (six points) at the 11:10 mark. Spronk, who scored 14 first-half points, added a couple of hoops to help SWC in that stretch.

RRC gradually started to cut into the Eagles' led, as Sell scored on a couple of fast-breaks, sophomore Cierra Nickel (six rebounds, five points) passed to Maras for a mid-range shot, and Smith dished to junior Nichole Schroeder for a hoop to finish a slick press-breaker -- helping the Falcons pull within 14-12 with 10:15 to go.

Maras gave RRC its first lead (18-16) at the 7:28 mark with an offensive-rebound basket following her own missed shot. Sell dialed in a pair of left-wing 3-pointers to give the Falcons a 24-20 lead with 6:19 remaining.

SWC, which was 20-for-27 from the free-throw line, regained the lead with 4:27 to go, as Spronk scored off a drive-and-dish from Broekhuis in transition to make it 27-26 Eagles.

SWC took a 33-28 halftime lead, and junior Kara Van Dyke (10 rebounds, nine points) twice gave the Eagles a nine-point lead (37-28 and 39-30) in the first 3:15 of the second half with two free throws at the 15:25 mark and an offensive-rebound basket 40 seconds later.

Junior Jada Vander Veen (nine points, eight rebounds, four assists, three steals) later scored on the left block and netted two free throws to help SWC open up a 10-point lead (43-33) with 12:49 remaining.

However, Sell scored eight points in a 40-second span (from the 12:12 mark to the 11:32 mark) to get the Falcons within four (45-41). Sell (five steals) completed a nifty fast-break with a basket and nailed a 3-pointer from the top of the key to highlight that streak.

RRC was within two (47-45) following a pair of free throws by Nickel with 7:38 left, but the Eagles countered with a 12-2 burst take the game's largest lead.

Spronk's offensive-rebound basket at the 7:10 mark started that run, while Broekhuis converted another steal in the backcourt into a layup just seven seconds later.

Broekhuis meshed a left-elbow jumper with 6:35 to go, and Vayla Van Dyke scored in the paint with 5:33 left to account for SWC's next four points.

Spronk and Broekhuis then went 2-for-2 apiece from the free-throw line on back-to-back possessions to put the Eagles up 59-47 with 4:13 remaining -- setting the stage for RRC's wild rally and near comeback victory.

SWC 33 36 -- 69

RRC 28 38 -- 66

SWC (3PT-2PT-FT-TP): Broekhuis 0-6-5-17, Vermeer 0-1-1-3, K. Van Dyke 0-3-3-9, Ja. Vander Veen 1-2-2-9, V. Van Dyke 0-3-0-6, Spronk 0-8-9-25. Totals: 1-23-20-69.

RRC (3PT-2PT-FT-TP): Nickel 1-0-2-5, Sell 5-7-3-32, Maras 0-3-0-6, Smith 0-2-2-6, Engen 0-3-1-7, Schroeder 0-1-0-2, Neperman 1-1-0-5, Fredrickson 0-1-1-3. Totals: 7-18-9-66.