By Reece Hemmesch Special to The Free Press
The Mankato Free Press
---- — It was not the model start the Cougars were looking for, but the Mankato East girls basketball team was resilient in Thursday’s overtime win over Austin.
The Cougars scored 31 points in the second half and outscored the Packers 9-7 in the overtime to come out with the 55-53 Big Nine Confernce win at the East gym.
It looked bleak for the most part but East was able to come back on Austin late in the game, as Claire Ziegler’s make-and-one gave the Cougars their final lead of the game in overtime to end the up-and-down evening in East’s favor.
“We were flat in the first half and a little bit in the second half, which was disappointing,” East head coach Mike Barger said, “But we came out and came out on fire.”
The Cougars were held to just 15 points in the first half, as the stifling Packer defense and an contributed to just four East players scoring at that time. East was held scoreless through the first seven minutes of the game, finally obtaining its first bucket with just under 11 minutes to play in the opening half.
Though they trailed heading into the locker room, East kept moving forward as the Austin lead that was built since the tipoff slowly dwindled down.
East gained their first lead of the night with just 3:30 to play in the second half, when senior forward Shelby Beckman’s layup fell to put the Cougars up 38-37.
The first half eventually ended in a 46-46 tie. In the overtime session, it was Beckman again as her make on the second attempt of a 1-and-1 fell to put the game at 52-52 in the final minute.
East senior Claire Ziegler then fouled Austin’s Shayley Vesel with 18.7 seconds left, where Vesel sank the second of two to give Austin the 53-52 lead.
In the closing seconds, it was Ziegler again as her basket in the paint, followed by a made free throw gave the Cougars their final lead of the night to move their record to 2-3 overall and 3-1 in Big 9 play.
Ziegler put up a remarkable second half in the win for East, scoring 14 of her total 20 in the second to become the game’s leading scorer.
On the opposite side of the court, 6-foot post Mer Gach of Austin was the thorn in East’s side, finishing the game with a total of 17 points.
“(Gach is) tough to guard. We tried to deny her the ball but we couldn’t even do that,” Barger said.
“She’s active and gave us a hard time. When they shot, she was always hitting the board so we have to do a better job of finding her next time.”
Taylor Karge also added 15 points for the Cougars, who now travel to No. 7 Marshall today. For Austin, Meredith Fritz tallied 11 to lead the Packers while Vesel and Amber Hansen each added nine in the loss.