By Denny Weller Special to The Free Press
The Mankato Free Press
---- — MANKATO — It’s not often New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva girl’s basketball coach John Schultz raises his voice to his defending Class AA state champion Panthers.
“I’ll yell when they don’t work hard and when they work hard I’ll shut up,” Schultz said. “I told them we’d be conditioning a lot tomorrow during that early timeout, but then they got it going.”
The top-ranked and undefeated Panthers (26-0) responded to Schultz’s urging by ripping off a half-ending 37-3 run on their way steamrolling Tri-City United 87-34 in a Section 2AA, South Sub-Section semifinal contest at the East gym.
“My dad gave us a little yelling and that’s not like him,” senior guard Jade Shultz said. “He’s soft-hearted and kind of a push over, he hardly ever yells.
“We got more aggressive after that and started making more of our shots. It just wasn’t clicking for us.
“We weren’t used to the bigger floor and it seemed like we kept hitting the ball out of bounds instead of grabbing it. Things finally started falling into place. It’s really scary knowing any game be your last but it is what it is so we just have to keep working hard to go as far as we can go.”
Senior scoring machine Carlie Wagner nailed a pair of 3-pointers and a 10-foot transition hoop as the Panthers took an early 10-5 lead. After junior forward Dani Angileno’s three-point play trimmed the margin to 10-8, Schultz’s baseline 3-pointer triggered a 9-0 surge that produced a 19-8 lead on another Schultz three-point play off a driving left-elbow jumper.
Tri-City (10-17) sliced the defict to 26-18 behind a baseline jumper and 3-pointer from freshman guard Joslyn Vargo, forcing coach Schultz into a timeout.
“We were just kind of lazy and our defense wasn’t working very well,” said Wagner, who fired in 33 of her game-high 39 points in the first half. “Coach chewed our butts a little bit and it was way better after that. We were more intense on defense and way smarter with our passes and shot selection.
Freshman guard Marnie Wagner’s left-wing 3-pointer sparked a 20-0 burst that ballooned the Panthers cushion to 46-18 on her foul shot with 4:11 left in the half. After Vargo’s free-throw line jumper ended the Titans’ drought, Carlie Wagner’s 10-point flurry — two 3-pointers along with a slicing drive and two foul shots — helped NRHEG rocket out to a 63-21 bulge at the break.
Carlie Wagner also tallied seven rebounds, five steals and four assists. The Panthers also received 12 points, nine boards and four assists from Schultz.
Angileno led the Titans with 12 points and nine rebounds and Vargo ended up with 10 points.
NRHEG won the boards 43-31 and committed fewer turnovers 26-11. Tri-City managed to convert on just 16 of 38 from the free-throw line.
“We were making some mistakes we usually don’t make,” coach Schultz said. “We haven’t played in over a week and they weren’t real sharp.
“We’ve got four seniors that have kept this program strong. I kind of hand things over to them when we need a boost and I don’t know what to say.”
NRHEG plays again at 7:45 p.m. Monday in the south subsection title game at Minnesota State’s Bresnan Arena.