The Mercer girls’ basketball team is right in the thick of things in the Indianhead Conference, looking to put themselves in a position for the end-of-the-season run.
The Tigers lost 47-39 to South Shore on Thursday, Jan. 30.
Then they returned to Mercer to defeat Washburn 47-35 on Monday, Feb. 3.South Shore
The Tigers didn’t pick up the win, but played one of their best games of the year, according to coach Vic Saeger.
“We played a very good team. Happy with the way we played,” he said.
Ella Torkelson paced the Tigers in the first half. She scored 12 points including a 3-pointer and several trips to the foul line.
The Tigers held a 22-19 lead at the break.
“I picked them to win the conference,” Saeger said. “We played them neck-and-neck.”
But back came South Shore in the second half. Chloe Sipsas ended up scoring 17 second points to pace South Shore. All in all, Sipsas recored 23 points and a perfect 6/6 from the free throw line.
South Shore got up by as many as six points when the Tigers came back. KD Knipp had a fast break basket and then Ava Barton got them to within two points with little time remaining. Trying to get the steal, Saeger had to gamble a little bit.
“I called my last timeout with a minute left and we went to a man-to-man full court (press) so they couldn’t run the clock out,” he said. “KD almost had a steal. They made free throws down the line.”
Torkelson finished with 17 points, leading the Tigers.
“(Ella) had the best game of her career, not just scoring, but her leadership, breaking the press, her defense, lack of turnovers, just did an unbelievably good job with the press,” Saeger said.Washburn
By the time the clock reached the 15-minute mark of the first half against Washburn, the score was still tied at 0-0. Both teams were missing shots and turning it over.
“It took us forever to get going. I’ll give them credit though,” Saeger said. “They don’t have a lot of offensive skilled players, but they played pretty good defense.”
Finally, Torkelson corralled an offensive rebound off a Zoe Botes miss and scored two points. Later, Botes scored two points on a jumper.
The Tigers led 5-0 with 12:59 in the half.
“Their defense kind of counteracted what we wanted to do. They really denied the ball into the wings. It was tough for us to get our offense going,” Saeger said. “We ran pretty much every offense we run and never really got anything.”
Botes then scored a deuce in the post, coming off of an inbounds play.
Using their defense, the Tigers were stifling the Caste Guards. Washburn finally got on the board with a free throw six and a half minutes into the game.
The game remained close. The Tigers led 7-6 with 8:23 left in the half.
Ava Barton hit the Tigers’ first 3-pointer to finally break things open.
“We went into a five out, which we don’t run very often just to get some spacing and open up the middle,” Saeger said.
After that, Jessica Klopatek hit a floater in the lane. Then Ava Barton got fouled, making two free throws. Next, Molly Hohner got the score on an offensive rebound.
Staying aggressive on defense, Ava Barton scored four more points, two on a steal. She finished with 15 points.
“Our big offensive threat was our press, getting a lot of steals, getting a lot of layups,” Saeger said.
Toward the end of the half, Knipp came off the bench to give the Tigers some energy into the break. She scored two points on a steal mid-court. Then she grabbed an offensive rebound with less than six seconds left for the putback shot.
Mercer led 26-17 at halftime.
Botes came out aggressive in the second half. After getting boxed up and left open to shoot 3-pointers in the first half, she used a variety of moves inside the paint to score points.
“They really did a good job in the first half trying to keep Zoe from getting the ball,” Saeger said.
The first shot was a mid-range jumper. Then Botes scored on an inbounds play, assisted by Torkelson. Finally, she scored again on a pass inside from Jessica Klopatek.
With 14:10 left, the Tigers comfortably led 33-21.
A couple of Tigers scored their first points in the game. Aubrey Schoeneman scored two on yet another offensive rebound in the paint. Hohner got two points in the post.
“Molly had a bunch of rebounds in the first half,” Saeger said. “Aubrey came in and got more minutes. She played a good game.”
The Castle Guards had scored just four points in the second half as the midway point of the second half came to pass.
Early in the half, Lexi Barningham fouled out, making it difficult to both score and move the ball up the court.
“Once Lexi fouled out, then they really were in trouble because she was their main ball handler,” Saeger said.
Putting the final touches on the game, Knipp got a steal and scored a basket. She followed that up with a coast-to-coast score as the Tigers’ lead grew to 24 points. Knipp had eight points.
“(KD’s) our best athlete. She’s really fast, she’s athletic,” Saeger said. “She gives us a boost of energy, really good on the press. She’s quick and reads passes and gets a lot of steals.”
Since it was Parents’ Night, Saeger was fortunate to have a big enough lead to put in everyone on his bench. Everyone got to contribute to the conference win.
“Everyone got to play on Parent’s Night,” Saeger said. “It was a good team effort.”
The win put their record at 6-6 in conference, sixth best in the standings.
They played Butternut on Thursday.
Then, the Tigers host Washington Island on Saturday, Feb. 8 starting at 3 p.m.Brett LaBore may be reached at [email protected] or [email protected].