PREP GIRLS' BASKETBALL: SWC takes sub-section with win over FuldaMARSHALL — Combining an awesome first-half defensive performance with clutch play after clutch play down the stretch Monday night, the second-seeded Southwest Christian Eagles earned a thrilling 65-59 victory over the top-seeded Fulda Raiders in the championship game of the Section 3A South high school girls’ basketball tournament at Southwest Minnesota State University’s R/A Facility.
By: Lucas Knutson, Worthington Daily Globe
MARSHALL — Combining an awesome first-half defensive performance with clutch play after clutch play down the stretch Monday night, the second-seeded Southwest Christian Eagles earned a thrilling 65-59 victory over the top-seeded Fulda Raiders in the championship game of the Section 3A South high school girls’ basketball tournament at Southwest Minnesota State University’s R/A Facility.
Megan DeRuyter scored a game-high 21 points and collected nine rebounds, seven steals and four assists to lead the Eagles, who led the entire first half and overcame a five-point deficit early in the second half to advance to the section title game Friday night in Marshall. SWC (20-5) will take on Minneota (28-1, North sub-section champion) at 8 p.m. with a berth in the Class A state tournament on the line.
“This was a fantastic team effort and a well-deserved win,” exclaimed SWC head coach Denise Nerem in the midst of the Eagles’ post-game celebration. “Our defense was outstanding tonight, as we executed our gameplan very well and persevered against a really good Fulda team. I’m so proud of our girls and super pleased with the way we fought all the way to the end in an intense and physical ballgame.”
The Raiders, who finish a terrific season with a record of 23-6, didn’t score until the 12:48 mark of the first half and trailed by as many as 11 points (21-10 and 23-12). But Fulda closed the half on a 14-6 run and then came out of the locker room on a 10-2 surge, turning a 29-26 halftime deficit into a 36-31 lead with 14:19 remaining in the second half.
SWC, though, answered with eight straight points to take a 39-36 lead at the 10:23 mark. Amber Pater (12 points) scored twice in the lane to help the Eagles regain the momentum, while Michaela Zeinstra (10 points) and Deidra Vander Woude (10 points, nine rebounds) each hit a shot in that burst.
Fulda’s Courtney Hulstein, who scored 14 of her team-best 16 points in the second half and played with four fouls for the last 12:13, netted six points (driving layup, mid-range jumper and two free throws) in the ensuing two minutes to help the Raiders rally and take a 44-43 lead. A putback basket by Brittney Hermeling put Fulda back in front with 7:23 to go.
However, another 8-0 run by the Eagles followed. DeRuyter meshed a 15-footer from the left wing, hit one of two free throws and swished a step-back 3-pointer from the right wing, while Julie Bobb provided a big offensive-rebound basket to put SWC up 51-44 with 4:58 on the clock.
The Eagles maintained a seven-point advantage (53-46 and 55-48), but the Raiders weren’t done yet and pulled to within two (57-55) when Hulstein made a long down-court pass to Melissa Gehl (12 points) for a breakaway layup at the 1:38 mark. Hulstein had passed to Sariah Cheadle (eight points, eight rebounds, seven steals and five assists) for a bucket underneath 23 seconds earlier.
Two free throws by Zeinstra were then countered by a shot from the right elbow by Hulstein, as it was 59-57 with 1:11 left. DeRuyter passed to Pater for a basket on the right block, but Hulstein again matched that hoop with one of her own in the lane to make it 61-59 with 41 seconds to go.
SWC then used crisp passing and an offensive rebound by Pater, who was fouled and sank two free throws to make it 63-59 with 20.5 seconds remaining, to help seal an exciting win. A pair of defensive stops and two free throws by DeRuyter with 7.8 seconds showing helped the Eagles wrap up a 65-59 victory.
“SWC played really well and played really hard — give them credit, they deserved to win,” summed up Fulda head coach Gregg Slaathaug, who was recognized as the sub-section’s coach of the year. “Our girls sure did give a valiant effort, but came up a little short. We had a great season and it’s tough to have things suddenly come to an end.”
The Eagles’ team defense dominated the early stages of the game, as Fulda couldn’t get anything going and didn’t score until Rachel Cheadle (eight points, six rebounds) supplied an offensive-rebound basket at the 12:48 mark.
SWC was up 6-0 three minutes in, as DeRuyter scored on a drive from the left side just five seconds after the opening tip and also passed to both Pater and Vander Woude for hoops.
Zeinstra connected on an 18-footer from the left wing, and DeRuyter converted on a tough 3-point play in transition to push the Eagles’ lead to 11-2 at the 11:44 mark.
Fulda’s Tiffany Gehl (11 points) scored on a breakaway layup to make it 11-4, but a second-chance basket by Jennifer Schmidt (six points) and back-to-back interior baskets by Vander Woude helped SWC open up a 21-10 advantage with 6:43 to play. Schmidt fired in a mid-range shot to make it 23-12 a minute later.
The Raiders then started to work their way back into contention, starting with a basket underneath by Hermeling (Sariah Cheadle assist). Tiffany Gehl (11 points, four steals) then drilled a 3-pointer from the top of the key to make it 23-17 with 3:40 remaining.
Melissa Gehl scored two straight baskets 22 seconds apart and then fed Rachel Cheadle for a bucket down low, as Fulda was within four (27-23) with 1:04 to go. A steal and coast-to-coast layup by Sariah Cheadle with 12 seconds left capped the Raiders’ 14-6 run and trimmed the gap to 29-26 at halftime.
“We picked up our defensive intensity and that helped keep us in the game.” Slaathaug said. “Our offense then started to come along, as we took care of the ball better and ran the floor like we are capable of.”
SWC’s Hannah Van Dyke (four assists) opened the second half with an offensive-rebound basket, but Fulda rattled off 10 consecutive points to take its first lead. Melissa Gehl scored inside, and Hulstein scored on a drive to start that sequence.
Two fast-break baskets came next (Sariah Cheadle to Melissa Gehl and Hermeling to Rachel Cheadle), while a smooth crossover dribble and 12-footer in the lane by Sariah Cheadle gave the Raiders a 36-31 lead with 14:19 on the clock.
But the Eagles, who called three timeouts in a span of 58 seconds during Fulda’s comeback, regrouped and prevailed in the action-packed closing minutes to extend their season.
“We have worked so hard this year, going through some ups and downs along the way,” Nerem said. “Our girls kept on showing up and worked through the tough times, and that was again the case tonight. We knew that Fulda would come back strong in the second half, but we stuck with it and kept playing hard until the finish.”
SWC 29 36 — 65
Fulda 26 33 — 59
SWC (3FG-2FG-FT-TP): Van Dyke 0-1-0-2, DeRuyter 1-5-8-21, Zeinstra 0-4-2-10, Bobb 0-1-0-2, Vander Woude 0-5-0-10, Pater 0-5-2-12, Schmidt 0-2-2-6, Tinklenberg 0-1-0-2. Totals: 1-24-14-65
Fulda (3FG-2FG-FT-TP): B. Hermeling 0-2-0-4, Hulstein 0-7-2-16, M. Gehl 0-5-2-12, S. Cheadle 0-4-0-8, R. Cheadle 0-4-0-8, T. Gehl 1-2-4-11. Totals: 1-24-8-59.