By Denny Weller Special to The Free Press
The Mankato Free Press
---- — ST. PETER — You could just see the satisfaction and pride on the face of Mankato East girl’s basketball coach Mike Barger moments after his heavily-underdog Cougars pushed No. 2-ranked Marshall to the limit Saturday night before falling 60-56 in a Section 2AAA semifinal matchup.
“I thought it was a tremendous team effort,” Barger said. “I told the girls before the game to leave it all on the floor and not to worry about what happens. We’ve gotten a lot better as the season progressed and tonight we gave a very good team a run to the finish.”
Marshall (27-1) has registered 15 wins by more than 30 points this season, including a 40-plus thumping of the Cougars earlier this year. However, East’s 2-3 zone and a patient offense bothered the high-powered Tigers for much of the contest. East overcame an early 10-2 deficit to gain a 23-19 lead on back-to-back hoops — a top-of-the-key 3-pointer and a layup off a nifty in-the-lane spin move — from Claire Ziegler with 6:18 left in the half.
Senior forward Taylor Karge netted 11 points over the opening 18 minutes as the Cougars took their final lead on her left-elbow jumper with 3:46 go to. Marshall went up 27-25 at the half and never trailed again. Hannah Bennett led Marshall with 17 points while junior guard Sarah Buysse netted 16 points.
“We knew they were a drive-and-kick team so we wanted to make them work for everything they got,” said Ziegler, who ended her brilliant prep career with 21 points and 13 rebounds. “We knew coming in that we’d have to play our best and everybody had to get involved. We just came out and played our hardest.”
East (14-13) gave up four quick turnovers to begin the second half, enabling the Tigers to build a 41-28 lead. East rallied to pull within 55-52 on junior wing Brie Satre’s third 3-pointer off the right side with 1:12 remaining.
Marshall, which converted only 19 of 36 free-throw attempts for 53 percent, then got two foul shots each from Buysse and Callie Graff before a pair of baskets from Ziegler sliced the deficit to 59-56 with 12 seconds left. Buysse’s final free throw moments later ended the Cougars’ courageous effort.
Karge fired in 19 points for East, which got to the charity stripe only three times, making none.
“We knew we had to play tough defense and then just let the offense come,” Karge said. “We knew they were going to come out strong in the second half but they really hit us hard and we weren’t expecting that. I have no regrets for how we played tonight, we really played well and there’s a lot of pride on this team right now.”
East committed more miscues 20-10.