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PREP GIRLS BASKETBALL: Wildcats rally past Panthers for RRC win

Jordan Willi/Daily Globe The Panthers' Amber Walkowaik (11) strips the ball from the Wildcats' Alyssa Hendrickson (right) during a Red Rock Conference girls' basketball game Monday in Round Lake.

ROUND LAKE -- Two baskets by Southwestern United sophomore Courtney Place in the game's final 17 seconds Monday evening changed a 54-50 deficit into a 55-54 victory for the Wildcats in a tightly-contested Red Rock Conference high school girls' basketball game against the visiting Ellsworth Panthers.

Place, who is already nearing the 1,000 point mark for her varsity career, swished a well-contested 28-foot shot -- her only 3-pointer of the night -- from the right wing with 17 seconds left, bringing SWU within a single point.

Then, after an exchange of turnovers -- two by the Panthers and one by the Wildcats -- SWU freshman Andrea Hinkeldey caught an inbounds pass from Place with seven seconds on the clock and returned the ball to Place breaking through the lane.

Place's turnaround semi-hook shoot bounced through the hoop with three seconds showing and the Wildcats well-defended Ellsworth's long 3-point attempt at the buzzer.

"I don't know how she makes some of those shots," exclaimed her father and SWU head coach Keith Place. "Ellsworth had her well-guarded on that 3-point shot and I thought maybe it would get blocked or deflected -- and then I saw it drop through the bottom of the net and we had a chance."

Courtney Place finished with 29 points -- 17 in the second half -- blocked three shots and claimed 10 rebounds to pace the Wildcats to their eighth win of the season, including three victories in their last four games.

SWU (8-15, 7-9) is seeded seventh in Section 2A and hosts 10th-seeded Madelia in an opening round tournament game Thursday in Okabena at 7 p.m.

Ellsworth (11-13, 7-9) is seeded eighth in Section 3A and hosts Red Rock Conference rival Hills-Beaver Creek (the No. 9 seed) Thursday, also at 7 p.m.

"Southwestern United moved the ball well and got it to their shooters," praised first-year Ellsworth head coach Lisa Thielen about the Wildcats. "They also played tough defense and worked to take away our offensive threats."

The Panthers did put three players -- Alexa Huisman (18), Amber Walkowaik (15) and Bridget Kramer (14) -- in double figures and also received seven timely points from Alissa Walters before she fouled out with 5:34 remaining, just 12 seconds after her driving basket had given Ellsworth a 46-40 lead.

After an evenly-played first half ended in a 22-22 deadlock, the Panthers gradually began to take control after intermission, building a pair of seven-point leads (39-32 and 43-36), but the Wildcats responded with a well-executed 13-4 run over a span of four minutes and 35 seconds, claiming a 49-48 edge with 2:57 on the clock.

Place scored eight of SWU's points during the burst, including the last four (two free throws and an offensive rebound basket). She had earlier ignited the run with a steal and a layup.

A beautiful fast break play from Sonja Peters to Andrea Hinkeldey (eight points, five assists) was a highlight of SWU's surge, as was an earlier basket by Kailey Wendland off an assist from Hinkeldey.

Ellsworth, which had taken its 39-32 lead on a deep 3-pointer from the left corner by Walkowaik -- her third trey of the game -- and had earned a 43-36 advantage on the strength of hard drives by Huisman and Kramer, reclaimed the lead at the 2:40 mark when Huisman scored from the right elbow.

Following a missed shot by the Wildcats, a turnover by the Panthers and another missed shot by SWU, a steal by Place led to a free throw by Wendland (four assists) which tied the score at 50-all with 1:27 left.

Seven seconds later, Huisman netted a free throw, giving Ellsworth a one-point lead. She missed the second, but Hannah Mulder came up with the rebound for the Panthers and with 54 seconds left, Huisman (eight rebounds) sank a pair of free throws and EHS had a 53-50 lead.

The Wildcats missed three shots on their next possession and the scrappy Kramer (eight rebounds, seven assists) came away with the rebound and was fouled.

She made the second of two with 24 seconds left, giving Ellsworth its 54-50 lead.

But seven seconds later, Courtney Place thrilled the home crowd with her long high-arching swisher, setting up the game's dramatic finish.

"Our defense has improved," declared Keith Place. "Both Andrea and Autumn Hinkeldey did a nice job of defending Ellsworth's guards -- who are pretty dang good, both as ball-handlers and shooters. Our defense forced some turnovers, which was a big factor in us coming back after being down by seven twice."

Thielen, too, was pleased with her team's defensive effort.

"Our girls never give up," she exclaimed. "We're competitors and we played well defensively and competed hard the whole game."

"Ellsworth is a solid team," praised Coach Place of the Panthers. "We needed to execute well offensively and we did a nice job late in the game of moving, exchanging and improvising to get the ball where we wanted it."

Southwestern United 55,

Ellsworth 54

Ellsworth (11-13, 7-9) Walters 2 3-6 7, Walkowaik 5 2-5 15, Mulder 0 0-2 0, Kramer 4 6-10, 14, Huisman 6 5-10 18. Totals 17 16-33 54

SW United (8-15, 7-9) An. Hinkeldey 3 2-3 8, Hendrickson 1 0-0 2, Peters 2 0-0 4, Wendland 2 1-2 5, Place 10 8-11 29, Baumgard 3 1-2 7. Totals 21 12-18 55.

Ellsworth 22 32 -- 54

SW United 22 33 -- 55

3-Point Goals: Ellsworth 4 (Walkowaik 3, Huisman 1); SWU 1 (Place)