March 8, 2023 at 6:23 p.m.
Sauk Centre faces Albany for shot at state
Sometimes, when everything else is not on par, the Sauk Centre Streeters girls basketball team have used grit to grind out wins in stressful, hard-fought situations.
This proved to be the case again in the Section 6AA Girls Basketball Tournament semifinals March 7. With its season on the line and trailing at halftime, the Streeters used a dominant second half to take down the Holdingford Huskers 66-50 at St. John’s University in Collegeville.
“I’m really excited and really proud of our girls,” said Scott Bergman, head coach. “This team never gives up.”
The section battle was a rematch of a semifinal bout from last season, but a lot had changed since a year ago. Holdingford was no longer the wide-eyed underdog just happy to be there; they were a red-hot, confident group that had won 21 of their last 22 games, including playoffs. Sauk Centre, meanwhile, were the higher seed but far from the assured favorite; it would take everything they had in the tank for another trip back to St. John’s for the section championship.
Holdingford got its energetic crowd going immediately, winning the opening tipoff before firing a quick pass to a wide-open Maddy Mitchell underneath the basket. This quick-paced game gave Sauk Centre fits early, as the Streeters committed several turnovers and fell behind 18-11.
“They shot the ball really well in the first half, but we felt if we just kept playing defense and wearing them out, their legs were going to go a little bit,” Bergman said.
The Streeters stayed measured even as the Huskers’ confidence increased, with sophomore guard Cierra Kortan leading the way. The blistering playmaker was big-time, especially in the first half, when she scored 17 of her game-high 25 points.
“I just know from my first shot if I’m on or not,” she said. “Then, I’ll just keep shooting.”
Sauk Centre cut Holdingford’s lead down to two twice before seizing a three-point advantage in the final minutes of the first half. Despite this late surge, Holdingford entered the halftime break up, with Mitchell hitting the team’s lone 3-pointer on the final possession before the half expired.
“It comes to that word we’ve talked about a few times, and that’s ‘grit,’” Bergman said. “We gave up a three for them to take the lead before the end of the first half, and that didn’t really faze our girls,” Bergman said.
Heidi Lieser, one of the team’s three seniors, made an immediate impact out of the intermission. She launched a floater that found its way through the basket to tie the game and helped Sauk Centre build a five-point lead with a second bucket. Lieser ended the win-or-go-home game with four points, seven rebounds and four assists, continuing an excellent tournament.
“Heidi does so many things well that go unnoticed,” Bergman said. “She rebounds, she plays defense. The other night, it was her turn to score. That was huge. We needed that with Tory (Jennissen) not able to play much.”
Outscoring one of the section’s strongest programs in the second half was only made possible through team basketball. The aforementioned Jennissen and forward Jenna Gapinski-Vogt, still returning slowly from injury stints, combined for 25 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks, Emily Peters knocked down a 3-pointer and Torry Kerfeld added seven points and three assists.
“I think we all just work so well together,” Kortan said. “It just makes for great team basketball.”
This determined, solid play lasted the entirety of the final 18 minutes. While Addy Pilarski and Mitchell both drew fouls and connected on well-defended, difficult shots, the Streeters’ defense pushed them back to the 3-point line and took away any interior space.
“It all comes down to defense,” Bergman said. “We just get harping, ‘Keep getting stops. Keep getting stops.’”
While the Huskers used an and-one opportunity to build a late push, the Streeters shut down its pesky foes with incredible free-throw shooting, making 17 of 20 looks from the stripe.
The Streeters, in an all-too-familiar rivalry for the ages, will face the Albany Huskies in the section championship at 7 p.m. Friday, March 10, at St. Cloud State University in St. Cloud.
“I’m just excited to see how we face it and play as a team and hopefully, we can come out with a win,” Kortan said.
HOL 32 18 50
SC 30 36 66
Kortan 25 points (4R), Gapinski-Vogt 13 (7R), Jennissen 12 (4R), Kerfeld 7 (3A), Peters 5, Lieser 4 (7R, 4A) and Maddy Schuster 0 (4R, 6A).
Sauk Centre 62,
Eden Valley-Watkins 47
A new setting was not doing wonders for the Streeters.
Sauk Centre, the Section 6AA tournament’s second seed, found themselves trailing by one at the halftime break to the upstart Eden Valley-Watkins, who punched way higher than the No. 10 next to their name.
Like any Bergman-coached team, however, the Streeters adjusted to the state of the game and settled into a groove in the second half, outscoring the Eagles 37-19 in the second half of a 62-47 victory March 4 at St. John’s University in Collegeville.
The hero of the night for Sauk Centre was Lieser, who shot a perfect 6 of 6 from the field, including 5-for-5 from beyond the 3-point line in a career-best performance.
Also helping to send the Streeters to the section semifinals was a 22-point, five-rebound night from Kortan, a 15-point, 10-board showing from Gapinski-Vogt in her full return to basketball action and a brilliant 10-rebound, six-assist outing from Schuster in a starring role.
EVW 26 19 45
SC 25 37 62
Kortan 22 (5R), Lieser 19 (4R), Gapinski-Vogt 15 (10R), Schuster 2 (10R, 6A), Kerfeld 2 (4A), Jennissen 2 (3R) and Peters 0 (3R).
Sauk Centre 80, Mora 29
Step one of the Section 6AA playoffs for the Streeters was a definitive success.
Kortan continued her scoring rampage with a stellar 34-point outing, Lieser came up one rebound short of a double-double and Sauk Centre punched its ticket to the section quarterfinals with an 80-29 win over the Mora Mustangs March 2 at Sauk Centre High School in Sauk Centre.
Sauk Centre contained its opponent from start to finish, building an incredible 50-12 lead by halftime and coasting to a season high 51-point victory margin. This was in part due to an impressive night from beyond the arc; Kortan connected on six 3-pointers, Lieser went 3-for-3 from downtown and Avery Rieland, Schuster, Ava Friedrichs and Jenna Riley all hit threes.
Fifteens Streeters took the court in the balanced effort.
MORA 12 17 29
SC 50 30 80
Kortan 34 (3S), Lieser 11 (9R), Schuster 7 (5R, 4A), Rieland 5 (6R), Friedrichs 5, Peters 4 (4R, 4A, 5S), Kerfeld 3 (3R, 3A), Riley 3 (5R), Elizabeth Herickhoff 3 (4R), Sienna Klaphake 3 and Gapinski-Vogt 2.