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Eagles rally, edge Patriots for title

MARSHALL — Rallying from a seven-point deficit in a well-played game with impressive runs by each team, Southwest Minnesota Christian prevailed with a final surge over the final seven minutes to claim a 74-66 victory over Hills-Beaver Creek and win its third consecutive Section 3A South girls basketball championship Friday at Southwest Minnesota State University.

With 8:41 remaining, H-BCs high-scoring junior forward Sidney Fick sank a pair of free throws (her 25th and 26th points of the game) to cap a 10-3 run by the Patriots and give her team a 59-52 lead.

A bit later, hard-working junior forward Grace Bundesen — who finished with a game-high 17 rebounds, along with 16 points and a game-high seven assists — came up with a steal and was called for a charge near the basket, keeping the spread from ballooning to nine points.

Neither team scored for nearly two minutes until Southwest’s Jazlynn Prins netted a three-pointer at the 6:56 mark, sparking the Eagles’ game-winning burst. Bundesen countered by converting on a drive and it was 61-55.

Emily Nerem, a veteran senior point guard for the Eagles, responded with a three-pointer that sliced the gap to 61-58. A rebound basket by 6-2 sophomore center Whitney Elbers lifted the Patriots back to a five-point lead (63-58), but the Eagles scored the next seven points and never trailed again.

With 5:43 on the clock, Prins — who finished with 17 points and five steals — converted on a three-point play, making the score 63-61. Emily Nerem’s drive tied the game at the 5:11 mark and after another defensive stop, the Eagles executed a nifty pick-and-roll out of the left corner as Prins found Hannah Nerem for a hoop and a 65-63 lead with 4:26 left.

Neither squad scored again until Southwest’s Brooklyn De Kam sank a pair from the line with 2:46 showing. A free throw by Prins with 1:28 remaining extended the Eagles’ lead to 68-63.

Later, a key defensive play by H-BC senior point guard Paige Tilstra gave the Patriots another chance, and H-BC executed a slick inbounds play with freshman Abby Knobloch finding Bundesen open underneath. Bundesen scored, was fouled and converted the three-point play with 59.4 seconds left, slicing the lead to 68-66.

The Eagles, however, pulled away at the line as Prins made another free throw, Emily Nerem connected twice, Sydney Van Hulzen hit one-of-two and Emily Nerem clinched the victory with two more as time ran out on a gallant effort by the Patriots.

“We played very well and had our share of runs,” declared H-BC head coach Kale Wiertzema. “We just came up one run short.”

The Patriots, who led most of the second half after finishing the first half on a 14-6 run (snapping a 25-all tie and taking a 39-33 advantage into intermission), finished a fine season with an overall record of 21-6. Three of those losses were to the Eagles, including an 82-80 overtime game at Edgerton on Feb. 8.

“H-BC has a great team,” praised veteran SWMC head coach Denise Nerem about the Patriots.

“Grace Bundesen and Sidney Fick are really super all-around players, and we needed to step and do a better job of containing them in the second half.

“I thought that our girls really played exceptional defense in the second half and Jazlynn (Prins) sure did a fine job on Fick, which sure helped us come back and take control.”

Fick scored 19 of her game-high 26 points in the first half, scoring in a variety of ways, inside and out. Bundesen was a force on the defensive boards, coming down with rebound after rebound for the Patriots, who held leads of 5-1, 11-9, 15-11 and 25-22 (after a steal and layup by Tilstra) before the Eagles knotted the score at 25-all.

Elbers, who finished with 11 points, six rebounds and three blocks for H-BC, scored the last five points of the first half — converting off a beautiful pass from Bundesen and later making a trio of free throws, including two with less than a second remaining.

Southwest earned first-half leads of 7-5, 9-7, 18-15, 20-17 and 22-19 before H-BC countered and held the edge until Hannan Nerem’s bucket off the screen-and-roll pass from Prins gave the Eagles their first lead since the five-minute mark of the first half.

Emily Nerem (19), Prins (18) and De Kam (17) combined for 54 of Southwest’s points, while freshman Maren Nerem (seven timely first-half points) came up with a team-high eight rebounds.

“Maren did a nice job inside for us in the first half, helping us stay close,” praised Coach Nerem about her daughter’s contribution off the bench.

The Eagles were 18-of-24 at the free throw line, while H-BC was 11-of-18.

Now sporting an overall record of 22-4, the Eagles will challenge Minneota (24-4) for the Section 3A championship at SMSU March 9 (5 p.m.). The Vikings won the North Sub-Section championship with a 70-57 over Lac qui Parle Valley.

Minneota defeated Southwest Christian, 80-48, at Minneota on Feb. 1.

H-BC   39  66

SWC    33  74

H-BC (3FG-2FG-FT-TP) Tilstra 0-1-0-2, Spath 0-0-1-1, Knobloch 1-0-1-4, Fick 2-9-2-26, Bundesen 0-6-4-16, Elbers 0-4-3-11, Rozeboom 0-3-0-6. Totals 3-24-11-66

SWC (3FG-2FG-FT-TP) Prins 3-3-3-18, E. Nerem 2-4-5-19, De Kam 1-3-8-17, Schaap 0-1-0-2, H. Nerem 0-3-0-6, M. Nerem 0-3-1-7. Totals 6-19-18-74.