Girls basketball: Wildcats sink Lakers in semifinals
COLLEGEVILLE — Good basketball teams know there are times when they have to figure out how to “win ugly,” especially a game or two into the postseason as nerves and expectations reach their peak.
New London-Spicer’s time came Saturday.
The 22-5 Wildcats, the No. 5 team in Class AA, shot just 35 percent from the floor in the first half, even worse in the second half, and they were out-rebounded by their Section 6AA-South semifinal opponent, Minnewaska. Star guard Taylor Thunstedt, the motor of NLS’ usually efficient machine, made nine of the team’s 12 turnovers.
And yet the Wildcats willed themselves to a 46-32 win over the Lakers at St. John’s University that put them in the subsection championship game against Eden Valley-Watkins at 6 p.m. Tuesday at SJU.
After a sluggish, turnover-marred first half — the teams combined for 16 turnovers by halftime — Minnewaska’s Bayley Pooler hit a 3-point shot to tie the game at 20 in the first minute of the second half.
But NLS held the Lakers to just two points over the next nine minutes, by which point they led by 10 points. In a game like this, that seemed like 30.
“(The Lakers) weren’t really doing anything special, we just couldn’t figure out what we needed to do,” said Thunstedt, who scored 16 of her game-high 23 points in the second half.
“We couldn’t get our shots to fall,” said Wildcats guard Bri Fredrick, who had 7 points and 4 steals.
Neither team seemed able to throw it in the ocean but Minnewaska’s offense struggled mightily, hitting just 6 of 31 second-half shots (19 percent). The Lakers couldn’t make up the difference at the foul line, either, shooting just three free throws total.
The circumstances might have hampered the Lakers’ performance. They came into the game having won seven of their last 10 games, but they came into the season with an 18-84 overall record and an 0-4 postseason mark in the previous four seasons. Their impressive South quarterfinals win over Morris/Chokio-Alberta on Thursday was their first playoff win since 2009.
“In a game like this, the nerves are always there,” Fredrick said. “But because we’ve been here before, the nerves weren’t as bad as they were for (Minnewaska). They haven’t played in a game like this for a long time.”
How tough was the slogging? Neither team scored the final 4:27 of the first half and they combined to score just 20 points in the first 12 minutes of the second half.
It was a puzzling development for a NLS team that averages more than 60 points per game. What happened?
“If I knew, I’d be a millionaire,” NLS head coach Mike Dreier said with a smile. “(Wildcat players) have such high goals that I think when things didn’t click early, that all of a sudden they got shaken a little, even though they shouldn’t have let that happen. But they did.”
While Thunstedt spent the second half ironing out her atypical uneven performance, it was Ashlyn Geister and Bri Fredrick who built the box that Thunstedt ultimately nailed shut.
Geister, who had 8 points and 4 boards, was the only player in the game who shot at least 50 percent. She hit a layup early in the second half to put NLS up for good, and Fredrick followed with five-straight points to make it 27-22 Wildcats. Thunstedt then hit a 3-pointer with about 10 minutes left and knocked down two foul shots 30 seconds later to make it 32-22. She scored nine-straight NLS points during one stretch.
Minnewaska’s Carley Stewart (14 points) and Pooler (12) combined for 26 of the Lakers’ 32 points. They grabbed 19 of the team’s 39 rebounds but also committed 10 of 17 turnovers.
The seasoned Wildcats weren’t pleased with the quality but they know an ugly win is still a win. They also understand playing that way doesn’t portend a deep playoff run.
“Once it started clicking, everything turned out fine,” Thunstedt said. “We just have to make sure for the next game that we get going a little quicker, because if we do that again we’re not going to win.”