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Girls Basketball: Cougars can't complete comeback

Zumbrota-Mazeppa's Amber Jentsch (middle) powers her way though the post as Rochester Lourdes' Megan Hobday (right) defends during Tuesday's game in Zumbrota.1 / 3
Zumbrota-Mazeppa's Alyssa Stehr (32) defends a Rochester Lourdes player in the first half of Tuesday's game in Zumbrota.2 / 3
Zumbrota-Mazeppa junior guard Kalli Paukert sets up the Cougars' offense during the first half of Tuesday's game against Rochester Lourdes in Zumbrota.3 / 3

ZUMBROTA - Trying to claw back against Rochester Lourdes in Tuesday's season opener, Zumbrota-Mazeppa wasn't planning on leaning on senior Amber Jentsch.

After suffering a compound fracture to her leg during softball this summer, Jentsch is still trying to get herself into playing shape.

"Amber broke one bone in her leg in three different places. ... She played more tonight than I should have let her play," said Cougars head coach Scott Paukert. "In practice, she's gone up and down hardly at all."

But in the second half, the Cougars center was pounding her way through the paint, helping cut a 41-32 deficit to 43-42 with 47.5 seconds left in the game.

"It felt good being able to play," said Jentsch, who scored seven of her nine points in the second half. "I have confidence now that I have the ability to help my team. ... (My ankle) felt good overall."

Despite Jentsch's best efforts, Z-M struggled to put up points, shooting 31 percent in a 48-42 loss to the Eagles at home Tuesday.

Coming off a state appearance last season, the Cougars looked sharp to open the game, starting on a 9-0 run thanks in large part to consecutive 3-pointers by Laura Brunner, who had a team-high 13 points.

"Laura's very capable of hitting a bunch of open shots," Paukert said. "She did have a cooldown in the second half."

Trailing 14-8, Lourdes went on an 8-0 run, taking the lead with 6:28 left in the first half after a 3-pointer by Katie Helt. The Cougars tied the game at 16-16, but the Eagles never trailed for the rest of the contest.

After Z-M's hot start, Lourdes' combination of a full-court press and a tight zone defense forced the Cougars into 15 turnovers, slowing the game down to a grind.

"Their press was pretty good, but we could beat it," Jentsch said. "It was just some first-game stuff."

Cutting down the Cougars' passing lanes and doing a better job of rebounding late in the first half, the Eagles held a 23-22 advantage at halftime.

"I thought we did a poor job all night long in passing and getting it inside," Paukert said.

Leading 32-29 in the second half, Lourdes went on a 7-0 run to go up 39-29 for its biggest lead of the game.

After a pair of free throws by Jentsch put the score at 43-42, Betsey Daly went to the line for Lourdes. She made her first shot, but the second bounced off the rim. In the calamity, Halt, a 5-foot-5 freshman guard for the Eagles, came up with the timely rebound. With 22.6 seconds left, Halt went to the line and sank both free throws, making it a two-possession game and effectively sealing the game.

Over half of Lourdes' points came at the free-throw line as the team went 26 of 34 from the charity stripe.

"We always say that the biggest play in a game comes down to a big defensive rebound, and on that free throw, they came up with it," Paukert said. "If we come up with that rebound, I like our chances, but they got the ball back."

Along with her team-high 13 points, Brunner also had seven rebounds. Carley Henning also finished in double digits for the Cougars with 10 points.

Helt and Sara Hobday each were in double figures for the Eagles, finishing with 11 and 10 points, respectively.

Z-M (0-1) is on the road for its next game, traveling to Bethlehem Academy on Dec. 4 in Faribault.

Joe Brown

Joe Brown is the sports editor for the Red Wing Republican Eagle. Previously, he worked at the Marshall Independent and the St. Cloud Times. For updates on local sports, follow Joe on Twitter at @RE_JBrown.

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