If the Blue Earth Area girls wanted a little steep competition to ready themselves for a run in the looming Sub-Section basketball tournament, they got their wish Tuesday night.
Visiting New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva High School, home of the 20-5 and unbeaten-on-their-own-court Panthers, the Buccaneers got at least 13 points from three different starters but fell to their cross-conference foes, 62-43.
Senior guard Samantha Barslou and junior forward Reegan Howard went off for five three-pointers apiece during BEA's showdown with NRHEG, and the Bucs trailed the Panthers by only five points when the first half came to a close.
But only sophomore forward Caitlin Rorman, who sunk three of her own shots beyond the arc, also scored for the maroon and gold on Tuesday. All but three of Rorman's 13 points came in BEA's competitive first half, before 38 points from the Panthers in the final 18 minutes lifted NRHEG to victory.
Out-rebounding the BEA girls 39 to 21, the Panthers were not nearly as deadly from three-point range with just three treys to their credit on the night. But 21 free-throw attempts and a hefty advantage over the Bucs in terms of two-point field-goal percentage (44 compared to BEA's 8) ensured NRHEG would walk away with its 11th straight win at home.
"We played a solid half on both ends of the court in the first half," said BEA coach Al Cue. "In the second half, we broke down a lot on defense and gave them many easy baskets (and) we also struggled to score."
Closing their regular season with a 13-12 record (3-7 in the Big South Conference), the Bucs will return home for a 7 p.m. kickoff of the Sub-Section tournament on Tuesday, Feb. 28, against Lake Crystal-Wellcome Memorial. After opening the 2016-17 campaign with a 2-4 record, the maroon and gold finished the year with eight wins in their last 12 matchups.
Sub-Section semifinals are slated for March 3 at Mankato East High School.
BEA 52, Luverne 28
Hosting Luverne in a Big South Conference crossover Friday, Feb. 17, the Blue Earth Area girls prepared for a tightly contested battle, entering the late-season showdown with a record similar to that of the Cardinals.
What they got, however, was just about the opposite.
Things started out even-keeled as the Buccaneers swapped early scores with Luverne, but an aggressive defensive performance, headlined by a collection of takeaways by the maroon and gold, lifted BEA to a commanding 52-28 win.
"After about seven or eight minutes, we played really well," said Bucs coach Al Cue. "And it's a good time of the year for them to start shooting well."
Anyone in the BEA High School crowd saw that the girls did, in fact, shoot well against Luverne, as both senior guard Samantha Barslou and junior forward Reegan Howard were responsible for a pair of three-pointers. Meanwhile, the team's leading scorer, sophomore forward Caitlin Rorman, helped orchestrate a 29-point first half that had BEA up by 13.
The defense, though, may have been the real story. Even if the Bucs' initial plan did not unfold as expected.
"We tried pressing them and pressing them," Cue said, "and then, of course, we fall into zone and create a bunch of turnovers."
Takeaways fueled the maroon and gold as the game went on, with the Bucs at one point leading by 28. They also helped the home team find some early momentum after a back-and-forth start to the Friday night action.
A deep field goal from Barslou had the Bucs tied 9-9 with Luverne early in the first half. And even after back-to-back steals by Howard and Barslou, capped off with layups from junior center Lindsey Norman, the girls still found themselves knotted up with the Cardinals.
A behind-the-back pass from Rorman in the paint set up a layup shortly afterward, however, and the Bucs hardly looked back from that point forward.
A Barslou three lifted BEA to a 20-16 advantage before senior center Samantha Ripley worked the boards for a hard-earned two points and Rorman subsequently wowed the crowd with a bank shot from beyond the arc.
A few plays later, sophomore guard Sidney Blair checked in and immediately found the basket after taking a stolen pass across the court. All of a sudden, the Bucs were up 29-16 with the break fast approaching.
Luverne's early resiliency was nowhere to be found as the second half unfolded and BEA continued to pile on with takeaways and points off the turnovers.
Another Barslou three-pointer, immediately followed by a trey from Howard, boosted the Bucs' lead to 17 points before Cue called upon the bench for a rotation of players over the contest's final minutes.
Senior center Ryanne Klabunde was among the reserves who saw extended time against the Cardinals, finding the basket for a late score that helped seal BEA's 52-28 rout.
The big win was the second in a row for the Buc girls and the eighth victory for the team in its last 11 games. It also marked the fourth consecutive win by at least 20 points for the maroon and gold, who last lost to Sibley East, 43-41, on Feb. 11 in Arlington.