MARSHALL - The dramatic change in temperature took place in a matter of moments.
Struggling with their shooting against Worthington's zone defense through the first 18 minutes, the Marshall girls basketball team went from frigid to on fire as soon as the Tigers took the floor to start the second half. With a 10-2 run in the first 1 minute, 28 seconds, Marshall quickly turned a six-point deficit into a two-point lead and rode the momentum to a 63-59 win Saturday night at Marshall High School.
The Tigers became the outright Southwest Conference champions with the victory, moving to 11-0 in the conference while Worthington dropped to 9-2. It is Marshall's first SWC title since the program went 12-0 during the 2006-07 season.
Photo by Matt Dahlseid
Marshall’s Kenzie Beekman, left, puts up a jumper in the lane over Worthington’s Bernadette Boever (52) during the second half of Saturday night’s Southwest Conference game at Marshall High School. Beekman and Tiger guard Kelsey Saugstad each finished with 17 points to help the Tigers earn a 63-59 victory and clinch the Southwest Conference title.
Marshall junior guard Kelsey Saugstad scored 15 of her 17 points in the second half, where she connected on four three-point shots. She hit a three within the first 10 seconds of the second half, then drilled a go-ahead three from the left wing to cap the 10-2 run. The Tigers went on to score 42 second-half points, doubling their total from the first half.
"In the first half, our shots just weren't falling in," Saugstad said. "In the locker room at halftime we told each other to just keep shooting and they'll eventually go in. You can't just stop because they're not going in one half, so we just kept shooting."
Sophomore guard Hannah Bennett was another Tiger who found her stroke in the second half, where she scored 10 of her 11 points. She hit two three-pointers in the second half and went 4 of 4 from the foul line in the final 1:28 as Marshall salted away the game by burning clock and coolly hitting its free throws. Forward Kenzie Beekman added 17 points for the Tigers, going 7-for-8 from the foul line.
Ana Boever 1 0-0 3, Megan Juber 0 1-2 1, Abbie Landgaard 3 1-2 7, Lydia Kemper 1 0-0 3, Mackenzie Gerber 7 0-0 15, Paige Gravenhof 1 0-0 3, Kristen Andersen 7 2-2 18, Bernadette Boever 4 1-4 9. Totals 24 5-10 59. Three-pointers 6 (Andersen 2) Total Fouls 19.
Kelsey Saugstad 5 3-4 17, Kenzie Beekman 5 7-8 17, Hannah Bennett 2 5-6 11, Kelli VanLeeuwe 3 1-2 7, Jessica Baker 1 0-0 2, Sarah Andersen 2 1-2 5, Sydney Griffin 2 0-0 4. Totals 20 17-22 63. Three-pointers 6 (Saugstad 4, Bennett 2) Rebounds 31 (VanLeeuwe 9, Saugstad 6) Assists 14 (Bennett 6) Steals 12 (Beekman 4) Blocks 0 Total Fouls 11.
Halftime Score: Worthington 27, Marshall 21.
Before Saturday's game, the Tigers (17-5 overall) had won each of their first 10 conference games by nine points or more, usually much more. In the first meeting of the season between Marshall and Worthington, the Tigers secured a 75-63 victory. Trojans head coach Eric Lindner made some adjustments in the rematch to try to make up the difference.
"What they really did a nice job of last time was getting the ball inside with a lot of dribble penetration against us, so we were going to gamble with the outside shot," said Lindner, whose team is now 12-7 overall. "It worked in the first half and they didn't shoot very well from the field. In the second half, they got hot. If they shoot like they did in the first half, it could have been a different story. They just got hot."
Neither team was hot in the first half, but the Trojans were able to build a lead by securing several offensive rebounds. They also hit four three-pointers in the half, including a pair by 5-foot-10 senior Kristen Andersen. Andersen finished with a game-high 18 points, and Worthington forward Mackenzie Gerber added 15 points.
The Tigers did a better job on the boards in the second half thanks, mostly thanks to their guards. Kelli VanLeeuwe, a 5-foot-7 senior, led the team with nine rebounds in the game, while Saugstad added six boards. The two combined for nearly half of the team's 31 rebounds.
"Both those kids battled (Saturday)," said Marshall head coach Dan Westby. "Both Kelli and Kelsey really weren't afraid to bloody someone's nose under there a little bit. Those kids got after it, and we really needed that. We just weren't really rebounding well on the defensive end and thank goodness those kids came up with some big rebounds for us."
The rebounds helped, but hitting shots was the biggest difference for Marshall in the second half. With the confidence built from their early run, the Tigers picked up their intensity on the defensive end and disrupted the Trojans' offense with their full-court and half-court pressure.
"Kelsey came down and knocked down a couple shots right away, and then I felt that our pressure was a lot more effective," Westby said. "I don't know if the kids were energized because of the good start to the second half, but our pressure gave them a lot of problems to start the half and we turned some of those turnovers into baskets. It was a good start to the second half and I think that was a big difference in the game."
Marshall built its lead to as many as nine points in the second half after a pull-up three-pointer by Saugstad on the right wing to give the Tigers a 53-44 edge with just over five minutes to play. The Trojans later went on a 6-0 run to cut the lead to 55-52 with 2:50 left after a pair of free throws by Andersen. On Marshall's next possession, the Tigers passed the ball around and worked 1:22 off the clock before Bennett was finally fouled and sent to the line. The Tigers made 8 of 10 free throws in the final 1:28 to preserve the win.
Marshall has four games left in the regular season before the Tigers begin defense of their Section 2AAA title. Their final conference game of the season is Tuesday at Pipestone.
This is the first time the Tigers have swept their regular-season series with Worthington since Marshall last won the Southwest Conference title in 2007. With a roster of young players who have played a big part in securing the conference crown, the Tigers hope they don't have to wait as long for their next SWC championship.
"It's really fun to get it back here and now we just have to focus on keeping it here for awhile," Saugstad said.