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Girls Basketball: Cougars hold on to beat Chatfield

Zumbrota-Mazeppa senior Laura Brunner (middle) cuts through the Chatfield defense for a layup attempt during the first half of Monday's non-conference game in Zumbrota.1 / 2
Zumbrota-Mazeppa's Tayler Mort (right) looks for a passing lane as Chatfield's Morgan Henry defends during the first half Monday in Zumbrota.2 / 2

ZUMBROTA - With Carley Henning sitting on the floor, clenching onto the ball in a frenzy, the Zumbrota-Mazeppa girls basketball team finally felt like they got a handle onto its season.

"That was awesome," Henning said, admitting that no one was going to take the ball out of her grasp.

"I saw it and was like, 'Oh my gosh, Carly,'" said teammate Laura Brunner. "I was so happy when I saw it in her hands."

Thanks to two steals in the final eight seconds by Henning, the Cougars got a much-needed lift in a 45-41 home victory over Chatfield on Monday.

"It's been really rough for us, and I think this game is a huge win," Henning said. "Our energy is really high."

Entering Monday's non-conference game, the Cougars have struggled mightily in 2012-13, coming in with a 2-8 record.

The Lady Gophers were 8-4 and looking to beat up on Z-M to avenge last season's 56-52 loss to the Cougars in the Section 1AA finals.

"We needed this one desperately, confidence-wise," said Cougars head coach Scott Paukert. "They had a lot of girls back (from last season's section final), so this win was something we needed."

Trailing 19-17 with 2 minutes, 40 seconds left in the first half, Kalli Paukert hit a 3-pointer to put Z-M ahead, and Molly Lawler followed with another 3. Paukert ended the first half emphatically with a 3-pointer at the buzzer for a 26-19 halftime advantage.

While the Cougars (3-8) shot just 32 percent from the field, they were able to find their range outside, shooting 6 of 9 from the 3-point line. Brunner lifted Z-M in the first half, scoring 12 of her game-high 19 points in the first half.

"That was definitely a confidence booster for me," said Brunner, who also finished with four steals. "I kind of got off to a rough start this season. I just went with it and finally, they fell."

In the second half, Z-M needed its defense to step up as the offense slumped, going 4-for-14 from the field and 9 of 18 from the free-throw line. Unlike most of their games this season, the Cougars had an extra boost in the second half which helped the team hold Chatfield (8-5) to 28 percent shooting in the second half.

"You could tell the energy difference in the game," Brunner said. "Our whole bench was pumped, and the crowd just brought so much energy, so we had that going for us."

Trailing the entire second half, Chatfield closed the gap to 42-41 when Candace Gould hit 1 of 2 free throws with 1:12 remaining in the game.

Kirsten Keefe tried to put the Lady Gophers up at the 30-second mark, but missed an open layup attempt that was rebounded by Z-M.

After Kalli Paukert missed a pair of free throws with 22.4 seconds left, the junior guard had a chance to redeem herself with 10 seconds remaining, going 1-for-2 at the line and bumping the Cougars' lead to 43-41.

With 8 seconds left, Henning intercepted the inbound pass and got the ball to Lawler, who was fouled. Lawler made it a two-possession game after hitting a pair from the charity stripe.

Chatfield tried to get upcourt in a hurry, but Henning swiped the ball once again, helping the Cougars steal a win from the Lady Gophers. Henning finished with eight points, seven rebounds and four steals.

"She played her best game of the season," Scott Paukert said of Henning. "She did a good job with their big girls and she was active on defense."

Kalli Paukert and Molly Lawler added seven points apiece for Z-M in the victory. Chatfield's leading scorer was MaKenzie Miller, who had 11 points. Traci McDonald had four points and nine rebounds, and Morgan Henry had eight points in the loss.

The Cougars are on the road today, facing Triton in a Hiawatha Valley League matchup.

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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