Twenty-five wins – and one loss. The Rush City girls basketball team was beaten for the first time on March 10, ending its phenomenal season one game short of the state tournament.
The Tigers fell 52-50 to Sauk Centre in the Section 6AA championship game when sophomore guard Kaylyn Bowen’s last-ditch three-point attempt fell off target.
The Tigers started the game brightly, leaping to leads of 7-2 and 16-8, forcing Sauk to burn timeouts in both cases. The latter advantage showed on the scoreboard with 10:45 to go in the first half, but while the Main Streeters would regroup, the Tigers would go ice-cold, scoring only two points the rest of the half. Sauk, led by the outside shooting of guard Maesyn Thiesen, rolled away for a halftime lead of 28-18.
“We got out to a really good start,” head coach Joe Nelson said. “The last 10 minutes we made a few too many mistakes and too many turnovers.”
Fouls would haunt the Tigers throughout the game. While Sauk would earn 24 free-throw attempts, the Tigers would only get five.
Sophomore center Jamie Guptill fouled out going for an offensive rebound with over five minutes still to play. Junior guard and defensive ace Stephanie Braund was credited with her fourth foul midway through the period and was fortunate to avoid a fifth.
The Tigers did not go down lightly, however. After Sauk made both free throws following Guptill’s final foul, the Streeters were up 43-35. The Tigers rallied from there, tying the game up after a 10-2 run led by Bowen, who was responsible for eight of those points.
“At a timeout I noticed a change in the girls, like they knew they could come back,” Nelson said. “We came back one step at a time, just like we talked about at halftime,” Nelson said. “I couldn’t be prouder of the girls, they didn’t give up. Bowen really came to town at the end of the game.”
Bowen hit again after a Sauk bucket to force another tie at 47-47 with only 1:35 left on the clock.
Sauk guard Kelsey Peschel missed a go-ahead shot and Braund grabbed the rebound, but Peschel stole back possession before the Tigers could get going. With nobody in front of her, Peschel missed a wide-open layup, but the Tigers were called for a foul going for the rebound. Sauk made both ends of a one-and-one, then did the same shortly thereafter when the Tigers, having failed to tie the game at the other end, committed an intentional foul.
Bowen hit a putback layup and a free throw to cut the deficit back to 51-50. The Tigers again fouled with under 10 seconds remaining. Thiesen made the first free shot but missed the second, moving the score to 52-50 and setting up a Rush City downcourt scramble that would end on the missed three.
Sophomore forward Shawna Mell led the Tiger offense with 18 points. Bowen was next with 15, followed by Braund (10), Guptill (four) and sophomore guard Elena Herberg (three).
The Tigers had knocked off St. Cloud Cathedral 36-30 on March 7 to win the Eastern half of the Section 6AA tournament. The full recap of that game was posted on the site the next day.
The Tigers slipped to a 16-15 halftime deficit in that game but controlled the proceedings for the most part in the second half. Taking the lead early in the second, the Tigers never relinquished the advantage and fought off multiple comeback attempts to win 36-30.
“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 points. Herberg also hit double figures (10), and Bowen (eight), Guptill (four) and Braund (two) followed.
In a ceremony at center-court after the Cathedral game, Bowen and Guptill were named to the all-section tournament team.
Putting up a record of 25-1 is made more remarkable by the fact that the Tigers did it with no seniors on the roster. Four of the five starters were sophomores.
“Having all underclassmen and still having all the success we did is great, but they still aren’t satisfied,” Nelson said. “They’re going to work hard this summer, become better shooters and try to take that one step further next year. Going by the atmosphere after the game, the girls were really down, but I know they’re going to work hard. They should be hungry.”