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Girls Basketball: 'Cats advance

MINNEAPOLIS -- Shea Oman and the New London-Spicer Wildcats started Wednesday's Class AA state tournament game with a steal-and-score and never looked back.

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Curt Hogg/ Tribune New London-Spicer guard Shea Oman goes up for a layup during a Class 2A State Tournament quarterfinal against Esko on Wednesday at the Mariucci Arena. Oman scored a game-high 16 points and the Wildcats won, 48-43.

MINNEAPOLIS - Shea Oman and the New London-Spicer Wildcats started Wednesday's Class AA state tournament game with a steal-and-score and never looked back.

More than 35 minutes later the fourth-seeded Wildcats capped a 48-43 wire-to-wire win over fifth-seeded Esko in part due to a staunch zone defense and solid scoring performance by Oman.

"It feels absolutely wonderful to get a win here," said Wildcat head coach Mike Dreier. "I feel great for the kids who have worked so hard to get to this point and have put their heart and soul into it each and every day, through the summers and offseasons. It's nice to see them get their big rewards."

The Wildcats set the tone early with a staunch 2-3 zone that Esko found tough to break. Oman's steal-and-score came after nearly a minute of perimeter passing and NLS remained disciplined as the game wore on as well. The Eskomos were held scoreless for the first 5:18 and by that point NLS was already leading 7-0.

"That was a great start for us," said NLS senior forward Kabrie Weber. "We talked before the game about how we wanted to start strong and that's what we did. We really focused on getting to the shooters in the beginning and that helped us get the win."

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Oman said her team's familiarity with Mariucci Arena

Esko picked up the scoring pace with help from their leading-scorer Ava Gonsorowski and Bridget Yellin who eached scored a pair of baskets as the Eskomos bounced back to tie things at 11.

Yellin, a sophomore listed at 6-foot-1, proved to be problematic for the Wildcats throughout the game by using her size to make defensive stops and score on the other end. She finished with 10 points and four blocks in 17 minutes of play.

"She hurt us," Dreier said. "We tried to front her, maybe forgot for a time or two, but there's problems with that, too. If you front some place then you leave another spot open."

The Wildcats responded quickly to the tie game with a pair of free throws from Oman and they led the rest of the way.

NLS extended their lead to six points and brought a 26-20 score to the locker rooms. The second half featured much of the same defensive tactics for the Wildcats and they jumped out to a 28-20 lead early in the half which proved to be the largest lead of the game.

Esko started to bring pressure midway through the second half and began to chip away at the Wildcat lead, cutting the game to 38-37 at the 4:04 mark but NLS had an answer for every move, hanging on to win 48-43.

It's the second year in a row the Wildcats have won the quarterfinal match at the state tournament. Their last quarterfinal loss was in 2014 to Esko. One of the differences in this year's game was Oman who was an eighth grader during that 2014 game. She finished with a game-high 16 points and three steals. She also tied teammate Brooke Beuning with five assists.

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"She runs the show for us," Dreier said. "She got the ball to open players at different times, she made big shots, made free throws. She's a good player."

Oman was often tasked with handling Esko's Ava Gonsorowski, who entered the game averaging 17 points per game, and limited her to 10 points.

"She's a good shooter, you have to stop that," Oman said. "She really likes going to her right so you have to stop that and take away their strong parts. If they're good enough to succeed with their not-so-strong parts then kudos to them but we did good shutting her down."

Up next for the Wildcats is top-seeded Roseau (30-0), who dismantled New Richland-H-E-G 82-64 in the quarterfinal. Despite the undefeated record, Oman said she feels confident with her team's chances moving forward.

"They're a great team, solid team," Oman said. "But if we play the way we're capable of playing I think we can get out of there with a win. It'll be tough game."

NLS 48, Esko 43

Esko (24-6) 20 23 - 43

NLS (26-3) 26 22 - 48

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ESKO - Scoring: Mackenzie Holland 4, Mandi Dincau 3, Selena Shady 11, Ava Gonsorowski 10, Karlie Kulas 3, Macy Sunnarborg 2, Bridget Yellin 10 ... 3-point shots: Dincau 1, Shady 2, Klas 1 ... Rebound leader: Shady 8, Holland 6 ... Assist leader: Shady 4 ... Steal leader: Gonsorowski 2

NEW LONDON-SPICER - Scoring: Shea Oman 16, Brooke Beuning 4, Kabrie Weber 8, Erin Tebben 6, Morgan Swenson 11, Ashton Engelke 3 ... 3-point shots: Oman 1, Weber 2, Engelke 1 ... Rebound leader: Weber 10, Tebben 7 ... Assist leader: Oman 5, Beuning 5 ... Steal leader: Oman 3

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