By Jim Rueda
Free Press Sports Editor
MANKATO — A solid zone defense and a more concerted effort on the offensive boards enabled Mankato East to pull away from Hutchinson in the second half and record a 56-41 nonconference girls basketball win Saturday at the East gym.
The Cougars led just 38-34 with 11:25 to play but went on a 17-2 run to clinch the victory. Claire Ziegler and Allison Taylor did most of the damage on the inside during the run as they combined for 15 points.
When the duo wasn’t scoring off offensive putbacks they were taking some accurate passes from Minnie Frederick from the perimeter and converting them into easy layups. Frederick finished with 13 points and six assists.
East head coach Mike Barger agreed that East’s defensive zone in the second half was the key to his team’s pulling away.
“We changed it up a little bit,” he said. “We put three posts out there (in Ziegler, Taylor and Taylor Karge) and that makes it tough for the other team to get the ball inside. There aren’t a lot of teams out there who can match up with us in size.”
East’s zone limited Hutchinson to just 14 second-half points.
Ziegler finished with a game-high 23 points and joined with Karge to lead all players with eight rebounds. Ziegler said the second-half run was just a matter of bearing down and doing what needed to be done.
“We knew we had to hustle more than we did in the first half,” Ziegler said. “Defense has probably been our weak link this year so it was encouraging to see us play better with it in the second half. It got our transition game going, too.”
The Cougars could have widened the gap even more in the last 20 minutes but stumbled at the free-throw line. East converted just 5 of 13 attempts in the final frame.
Taylor finished with 10 points for East and Monroe Julius led Hutchinson with 14 points. Teammates Traci Schwantes and Madison Christie had eight points apiece.
The Cougars (8-2, 4-1 in Big Nine Conference) travel to New Richland Tuesday to take on NRHEG in a nonconference game.