Girls Basketball: Wingers' 'D' leads way in section victory
Fourth-seeded Red Wing knew it had a challenge in fifth-ranked Visitation on Thursday. And in order to move on in the Section 4AAA tournament, the Wingers wanted to hold the visiting Blazers to under 40 points.
The numbers came out in Red Wing’s favor as the Wingers held Visitation to two points in the first eight minutes of the second half. Combined with causing 19 turnovers, Red Wing advanced with ease in a 48-38 victory at Sonju Gymnasium.
“We gave up a couple at the end, but we said we should be able to hold them to under 40,” said Wingers’ head coach Dave Muelken. “It was a 4-versus-5 matchup, so it should have been a good game. But we get to move on, so we’re happy about that.”
At first, the numbers racked up in the Blazers’ favor. Hitting four 3-pointers in the first eight minutes, Visitation went up 16-11 on a 3 by Hailey Wright with 10:04 remaining in the half.
“(Elsa Ayotte), we practiced with her as a driver, but all of a sudden she’s hitting 3-pointers,” said Wingers’ senior Hailey Kuhl.
Red Wing knew the Blazers were proficient at two things – 3-pointers and layup – so the goal for the rest of the half was to lock down the long-distance shots.
“We told the girls, ‘Let’s close out and make sure we have help defense for the drive after they hit a few 3s,” Dave Muelken said. “They made those four 3s, so we had to run at ‘em a little harder.
“Once we did run at them, they didn’t shoot it quite as effectively.”
Trailing 20-17, Red Wing held Visitation without a basket for the final 4:23 of the first half. And in that span, the Wingers turned the three-point deficit into an eight-point halftime lead, going up 28-20 at intermission. Sparking that run was McKenzie Muelken, who scored six of her team-high 15 points in the final four minutes of the first half.
Neither team scored in the first four minutes of the first half, but Red Wing was able to snap out of its slump first, going on a 10-2 run. Following a layup by Tayzha Buck, the Wingers were up 38-22 with 8:33 remaining and led by double digits the rest of the way.
“We had our scoring drought, but we defended. We didn’t let (the offensive struggles) impact us,” Dave Muelken said. “We were at 28 for a long time, but they were at 20 for a long time, too.”
Red Wing hauled in 30 rebounds, with Kuhl coming up with a team-high 11 boards, including six on the offensive end.
“Coach always says rebounds win games,” said Kuhl, who also finished with eight points. “We definitely succeeded in that.”
Ayotte led the Blazers (12-14) with 17 points, while Katie Commers and Maddie Schueppert finished with seven points apiece.
Along with fellow seniors Kara Norvet (seven points, three assists) and Maddie Faas, Kuhl left the Red Wing gymnasium floor for the final time with all smiles as they advanced to the section semifinals.
“The fact it was our last home game, all of us seniors wanted to go out and just make a statement,” Kuhl said. “We wanted to prove that we deserved to move on, and I think we did that.”
And now, the Wingers (8-19) are slated to face a familiar Missota Conference foe in the section semifinals. At 7:45 p.m. Tuesday at St. Paul Washington High School, Red Wing faces top seed New Prague after the Trojans advanced after throttling St. Paul Harding 77-13 on Thursday.
New Prague (17-8) went 2-0 against Red Wing in the regular season with a 58-45 win on Feb. 3 and a 49-36 victory on Feb. 25.
“We have played New Prague very well, and we should feel confident playing New Prague because it’s not a bad matchup for us,” Dave Muelken said. “Now, they’re the one seed and they’re very, very good. … We’ll give a good effort and we’ll see what we get.”