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Girls Basketball: High pressure puts K-W over Pine Island

ROCHESTER – Eventually, pressure will get the best of anyone.

After Kenyon-Wanamingo's offense struggled in the first half, trailing Pine Island 24-18 in Tuesday's Section 1AA quarterfinals, the fourth-seeded Knights wanted a spark. So, they amped up the pressure on defense.

“The first half, we didn't play all that well,” said K-W head coach Brent Lurken “We couldn't score, so we figured we would have to start playing great defense in the second half if we don't start shooting the ball better.”

And as the fifth-seeded Panthers struggled with turnovers and tipped passes, the Knights were able to play off the defense and surge ahead for good, advancing to the section semifinals after a 55-40 victory over the Panthers at the Mayo Civic Center.

“On the perimeter, we did a nice job of pressuring the ball and getting into passing lanes,” Lurken said. “And the inside girls did a good job of limiting (Eliza) Warneke. That was our key, we wanted to hold her down.

“The girls had probably the best defensive effort of the season. And it was a good time for that.”

Pine Island jumped out to a 7-0 lead and seemed as though they could break the Knights' pressure. Freshman guard Brooke Sinning scored all eight of her points in the first half as the Panthers put forth a balanced attack. Autumn Pin and Mikayla Radtke both had five points, and Pine Island hit four 3-pointers before halftime, compared to none for K-W.

“Our big cue all week was vision. We have to know where we're going to go with the basketball,” said Panthers head coach Scott Miller. “We have to see open kids and try to anticipate who's going to break open depending on what kind of defense they're going to show us. We tried to minimize turnovers by cutting some of the dribbling and using more passing. First half, that worked.”

Miller and the rest of the Pine Island squad figured the Knights would amp up the full-court pressure in the second half. But the Panthers could never get in tune as K-W tied the game up at 30-30 with 11:21 to go after a pair of Mara Quam free throws. Quam, who had a game-high 28 points, followed up with a layup, then Savannah Bleess made it a two-possession game with a 3-pointer. Up 37-33 with nine minutes to go, the Knights scored seven straight points to pull away for good.

“We expected it but we did a poor job of recognizing it. We didn't move the ball quickly enough,” Miller said. “We had a stretch where every pass was getting tipped because we were holding the ball too long. … We took a couple long shots, they were good shots in rhythm, but those resulted in two long rebounds in a row. Quam catches them in stride and it's over. The ball kind of worked their way and they out-worked us in the last 18.”

Bleess was second on K-W with eight points, and Megan Flom and Maddie McCauley both finished with six points.

“We needed other girls to step up,” Lurken said. “The second half with Mara and Savannah and Megan, they've played in big games before and it was nice to see them step up and hit some big shots for them. It gave the rest of the team confidence.”

Pine Island's season comes to an end at 18-10 overall while K-W, 18-9, prepares for a most unexpected opponent. At 11 a.m. Saturday back in Rochester, the Knights will face off with eighth-seeded Winona Cotter, who shook up the section Tuesday night by beating top-seeded and defending Class 2A champions Plainview-Elgin-Millville 54-52.

The Knights and Ramblers met once this year at the HVL vs. TRC Showdown, with K-W coming away with an 89-66 victory.

“We played Cotter earlier this year and they played us very tough,” Lurken said. “We shot the ball about as well as we could of and they were with us all the way through the second half. They're going to be excited, they had a huge win, and they will certainly be ready to play. We have to bring the same defensive intensity that we brought tonight.”

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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