By Joe Tischler Special to The Free Press
The Mankato Free Press
---- — MANKATO — Going into Tuesday night’s Big Nine Conference girls’ basketball game at West gym, Mankato East had defeated Mankato West seven straight times, including playoffs.
With 9:10 remaining in the game, it appeared that streak would go to eight as the Cougars led 64-51. From then on, West couldn’t miss their shots and East couldn’t make theirs as the Scarlets closed the game on a 27-4 run to win the cross-town matchup 78-68.
“We seem to be a team of runs,” said West head coach Kristin Krusemark. “It seems to be when we get a certain chemistry of girls together, they work really, really well together.
“When we get our defense clicking, our offense really feeds off of it.”
Leading West’s offense in the second half was sophomore guard Lexi Schoper. After scoring only four points in the first half, she erupted for 28 in the second while making seven 3s.
“In the second half, things were just dropping that weren’t dropping in the first half for Lexi,” said Krusemark. “She was unstoppable and she just got in a zone. They left her wide open and you can’t do that with a kid like her.”
It wasn’t Schoper that started the comeback, it was backcourt mate Sarah Buryska who drained a 3 to start the game-ending spurt. Buryska scored nine down the stretch on her way to 16 points.
It was Schoper, however, that was the catalyst in the closing minutes. She connected on three 3s and gave West the lead for good with a pair of free throws with 4:57 left to give the Scarlets a 67-66 lead.
“I have confidence in my team,” said Schoper. “They stepped up and they helped me out there.
“We’re very excited about this win. It hasn’t happened for a long time.”
For East coach Mike Barger, he says letting a lead slip ahead late is the story of the season so far.
“We quit defending. We let Lexi get three or four wide open looks. We’ve got East girls backing up and her shooting the ball. We should be contesting those shots. We’re better than that.”
Aside from Schoper, also having a great night shooting from outside was East’s Emily Stengel. She scored all 18 of her points from behind the arc.
Leading the Cougars in scoring was senior Taylor Karge who had 22. Fellow senior Claire Ziegler added 12.
For West, Jen Larsen kept the Scarlets in the game scoring 11 of her 15 points in the first half.
West (2-2, 2-2 in Big Nine) next plays Thursday at New Prague while East (2-3, 2-1 in Big Nine) also plays Thursday home against Austin.