The Rush City girls basketball hasn’t lost a game yet – after barrelling through the regular season 22-0, the Tigers have won the Section 6AA, Eastern subsection tournament, setting them up with a do-or-die championship final against Sauk Centre with a trip to the state tournament on the line.
The Tigers became champions of the Eastern half of Section 6AA by defeating St. Cloud Cathedral 36-30 at St. John’s University on March 7. That result avenges a loss in last year’s tournament to the same opposition, at the same venue and in the same round.
“We’re one step farther,” head coach Joe Nelson said. “They’re so excited. We played hard tonight, and we’re going to go to (the championship game) and play hard, I know that.”
In their 24 previous wins, the Tigers hardly seemed to trail their opponents. It was strange, therefore, to see the Tigers fall behind 5-0 early against the Crusaders. The opening deficit could have been worse: Cathedral missed two open looks for three.
Junior guard Stephanie Braund got the Tigers going with a short layup, which would prove to be her only basket of the game. After the Crusaders wasted a minute-long possession by committing a five-second violation, sophomore forward Shawna Mell hit a three to tie the game, then sophomore guard Elena Herberg picked up a defensive rebound followed by a three of her own to swing the Tigers into the lead.
After the Crusaders answered with a basket plus a free throw to tie the game at eight, sophomore guard Kaylyn Bowen hit a three, then made a steal on the next Crusader attack. On the ensuing transition run, Braund found Herberg open for a layup to give the Tigers a 13-8 lead.
The Crusader chipped away slowly, working a 16-15 lead as time ticked down in the first half. Bowen picked off another Crusader pass with four seconds left and broke free down the court, but the rapidly-expiring clock forced her to shoot early, and her attempt failed to drop.
The two teams found their marks in the second half. Mell put the Tigers back into the lead 19-18 with a short-range jumper three minutes into the period. A Bowen free-throw and a put-back layup by sophomore forward Jamie Guptill extended the lead to 22-18.
The game remained close throughout the half. The Tiger bench, which normally gets plenty of minutes in typical Tiger blowouts, mostly remained on the sidelines. The starting five of Bowen, Herberg, Braund, Mell and Guptill hardly ever left the floor, with only sophomore Katie McDonald coming off the bench to spell in the backcourt for a few minutes here and there.
The Tigers held onto the lead the rest of the way, though their advantage only fluctuated between one and six. Mell knocked down a three with five minutes remaining to put the Tigers up 30-25. From then on, the Tigers were able to be casual with their possessions and picky with their shots, in order to run down the clock and limit the likelihood of a Crusader comeback.
Crusader guard Megan Voit dropped a three with two minutes remaining to bring Cathedral close at 32-29, but that would be the Crusaders’ last gasp. Bowen nailed both ends of a one-and-one on two separate occasions to help see off the Tigers’ 36-30 victory.
“We didn’t have our best night offensively, but our defense was sure solid,” Nelson said. “Cathedral has been averaging a lot more points per game than what we allowed.”
Mell was the offensive leader with 12 point. Herberg also hit double-figures (10); Bowen (eight), Guptill (four) and Braund (two) followed.
In a ceremony at center-court after the game, Bowen and Guptill were named to the all-section tournament team.
In the final of the Western subsection tournament played directly after the Eastern championship, Sauk Centre ousted Albany 57-47 to set up a date with Rush City.
The final will tip-off at 7:45 p.m. on Friday, March 10 at St. Cloud State’s Halenbeck Hall. The game should be an absolute barnburner: including the playoffs, the Tigers and Main Streeters have a combined record of 53 wins and only one loss.
Rush City girls storm past Mora and Milaca in early rounds
The following appeared in the print edition, which went to press just before the Tigers played St. Cloud Cathedral.
The Rush City girls basketball team rolled through the first two rounds of the Section 6AA East subsection tournament last week, knocking out Mora 53-23 on March 2 and Milaca 46-27 on March 4.
Sophomores Jamie Guptill and Kaylyn Bowen each scored 16 points to lead the Tiger offense against Mora. Guptill pulled down seven rebounds while Bowen grabbed six; the team made 26 steals, with junior Stephanie Braund claiming the most (nine).
“That’s got to be some kind of record,” head coach Joe Nelson said.
Against Milaca, Guptill scored 13, sophomore Elena Herberg netted 10 and sophomore Shawna Mell came away with nine. Guptill came down with 13 rebounds.
“We played excellent defense again,” Nelson said. “They’re really big inside, but we held their posts down. They have big guards that like to shoot the three, and we held them down.”
In fact, the Wolves did not convert a single three-point attempt.
Only the Mora game was played on the Tigers’ home floor, but the Rush City support was palpable in both games.
“I want to thank the crowd,” Nelson said. “The community really came out and supported us.”