By Jim Rueda
Free Press Staff Writer
Too many fouls too early proved to be an insurmountable hurdle for the Mankato Loyola girls basketball team Thursday as the Crusaders fell to Win-E-Mac 59-49 in the first round of the Class A state tournament.
Loyola was whistled for 14 fouls in the first half and half and then had 15 more in the second. The end result was a 25-for-43 performance from the free-throw line for Win-E-Mac.
“I don’t think we were reaching in any more than we usually did,” Loyola head coach Rick Theuninck said. “They just seemed to call it tighter up here. They made 11 free throws to our two in the first half, and that’s tough to come back from.”
Shelby Kaster, a 5-foot-11, junior, was a force inside for the Patriots, grabbing 16 rebounds and scoring 23 points. Teammate Madison McKeever also had 23 points, including 13 from the foul line.
With so many of his players in foul trouble early, coach Theuninck was force to rely on his bench more than usual.
“We had to put kids in position they’re not used to being in,” Theuninck said. “I suppose there were other adjustments I could have made, but that’s hindsight now.”
Senior Mary Pfau was one of the major recipients of extra playing time Thursday, and she made the most of it. She came off the bench to scoring eight points and grab four rebounds in just 14 minutes of playing time.
“Everything was happening so fast it’s hard to remember what was going on,” an emotional Pfau said afterward. “I know we talked a lot about defense at halftime, but otherwise it’s pretty much a blur.”
The first-half turning point probably came with 10:39 to play. That’s when Win-E-Mac’s McKeever cashed in on a 3-pointer to give her team a 15-5 lead. It forced Loyola to play catchup the rest of the frame.
Loyola rallied in the second half, outscoring Win-E-Mac 9-1 during a three-minute stretch to close the gap to 37-36. But a short jumper by Kaster and some more free throws after the Patriots reached the bonus early got the lead back up.
With 7:07 to play, McKeever hit another big basket, canning a 3-pointer for a 47-37 lead. Loyola never seriously threatened thereafter.
Aunikah Bastian finished as the high scorer for Loyola with 13 points. Lindsey Theuninck scored 10 points before fouling out in the final minute. Bastian also led the team in rebounds with 11.
The loss gives Loyola a final season record of 26-4.
“I think we can walk out of her with our heads high,” Pfau said. “We had a great season. In my mind we’re still champions.”