Girls Basketball: New Prague's pressure too much for Wingers
ST. PAUL – Playing for the third time this season, Red Wing knew right away what New Prague was going to do: the Trojans were going to throw full-court pressure at the Wingers for 36 minutes.
What Red Wing had to do was keep the turnovers from piling up in a hurry. And for the first four minutes of the game, the Wingers handled the pressure on the way to a 7-0 lead.
“We talked before the game about how we can’t let one turnover become five, then have five become 10,” said Red Wing head coach Dave Muelken. “One has to be one, then we flush it and move on to the next play, and we did that for about eight minutes.”
But eventually, the Trojans’ pressure got to the Wingers, and top-seeded New Prague ran away with the Section 4AAA semifinal game in a 65-45 victory Tuesday at St. Paul Washington High School.
“This is the third time we’ve played them and we’ve had trouble with (the defense) in each game,” said Red Wing senior Kara Norvet. “We did better at times tonight, and then fell apart for a little bit, then played well for a little bit and fell apart again. That’s what they’re known to do: if they can turn you over, that’s how they win games. And that’s how they won tonight.”
Red Wing managed to go up by nine following a three-point play from McKenzie Muelken (14 points, nine rebounds) that made it a 14-5 lead with 10 minutes, 31 seconds left in the first half.
“We weren’t trying to be afraid to make mistakes tonight. We were playing to win instead of playing not to lose,” said Norvet, who scored a team-high 15 points.
And from that point on, New Prague pressed, trapped and cut off passing lanes to turn a nine-point deficit into a 22-14 lead following a 17-0 run.
“At the beginning, the kids were playing not to lose rather than playing to win,” said New Prague head coach Ron Gunderson. “We came down and missed a couple layups, we didn’t rotate and take away passes, doing some things we don’t do.
Gunderson added, “We got some depth and we got some athletic kids, so we want to utilize that (on defense).”
Helping in New Prague’s first-half charge was the play of Maizie Deihl, who scored 15 of her game-high 20 points in the first half. In the regular season, Deihl averaged 15.6 points per game.
“She can shoot and she can get to the rim,” Gunderson said of Deihl. “We’re just getting her back. She had a buckle fracture over her right arm … and she sat out a couple ball games. She’s feeling great, she’s 100 percent, and she’s a spark plug for us offensively.”
While Red Wing shot 42 percent from the field, including 50 percent in the first half, New Prague’s pressure was too daunting as the Wingers were forced into 25 turnovers. Up 32-23 at halftime, the Trojans led by as much as 21 in the second half as they pulled away for the win.
“When we didn’t turn it over, we had good shots,” Dave Muelken said, “but 25 turnovers, that tells the story right there.”
Combined with Diehl’s 20 points, New Prague had three other players – Ella Grote (12), Jess Allar (12) and Rachel Haecherl (10) – finish in double digits. The Trojans (18-8) will face No. 2 seed Simley in the section final Friday in St. Paul. The Spartans reached the section final after beating No. 3 seed Hill-Murray 64-52 on Tuesday.
Along with Norvet, fellow seniors Hailey Kuhl (eight points, five rebounds) and Maddie Faas (two points) played their final game for Red Wing, which ends the 2013-14 season at 8-20 overall.
“Those three seniors, they’ve been in three out of four state tournaments. You look back at their careers, you can’t take that away from them,” Dave Muelken said. “This has been a fun group to coach. They show up every day and give us everything they got.”