Girls Basketball: K-W overcomes Cotter defense, plays for section title Friday
ROCHESTER – Zumbrota-Mazeppa landed the first big blow to the Section 1AA bracket by upsetting Dover-Eyota in the first round. Winona saw that 10 over 7-seed victory and raised the bar with a win over top-seeded Plainview-Elgin-Millville in the quarterfinals. And for a while, the eighth-seeded Ramblers had fourth-seeded Kenyon-Wanamingo looking like another higher seed about to make an early exit.
But the Knights found their offense in the second half, locking up a spot in the championship game with a 50-40 win over Cotter on Saturday.
“The first half and few into the second half, they really controlled the tempo. We knew we would have to ceate some turnovers,” said K-W head coach Brent Lurken. “It came down to us being more aggressive. We were a little tentative to start the game, and once we gained some confidence and started playing aggressively things started going our way.”
The Ramblers confused and frustrated the Knights with a high-pressure, man-to-man defense that held Mara Quam to five first-half points, and Savannah Bleess to six.
“Usually with me an Mara, she's on and I'm off, or I'm on and she's off, but there are times we're both off, so people need to step up,” Bleess said. “It wasn't just me, it was my teammates stepping up and taking those shots and getting those rebounds. I rebounded a lot, but it was the team that helped out, especially Mara.”
With 4 minutes, 48 seconds left in the first half, Gloria Flanagan gave Cotter a 17-12 lead, and it was 21-17 Ramblers at half. And the Ramblers kept that advantage for the first half of the second half, with Bleess doing what she could to keep it close with five points in the first six minutes.
Finally, K-W broke through, scoring 12-straight points, and taking an eight-point lead with 4:17 to play. Quam, who finished with 20 points, had six points in that run, and then sent the Knights into the finals with six-straight points from the free-throw line over the final 59 seconds.
As much as the sudden scoring splurge pushed the Knights to a win, it was the voices on the floor that really made the difference.
“It's important that everyone talks to each other. You have to keep encouraging each other because you're going to get down, people are going to yell at you," Bleess said. "I'm not trying to be mean, but I yell at my teammates, like, 'You've got to do this.' Just don't get discouraged. (Talking) really helps.”
There will be more talking in the week leading up to Friday's section final, because there is now a bit of a playbook on how to stop the Knights.
“We weren't sure what (Cotter) would play (defensively). We practiced against a zone, so it surprised us a bit,” Lurken said. “There were so many times that if we had just sent a girl backdoor, we would have had it. But all of the sudden you have that girl in your face and you just want to get rid of it. Certainly, coaching-wise, we hadn't prepared for it, we didn't see Cotter play a lot of man. But we have to be ready for that in the next round because teams saw that.”
Standing between K-W (19-9) and a trip to state is third-seeded Rochester Lourdes (20-9), which eliminated second-seeded Hayfield, 65-49, a few hours after the Knights took care of business against Cotter. The Eagles defeated the Knights, 66-56, on Jan. 27 in the only regular-season meeting between the two teams.