By Drew Lyon
Free Press Staff Writer
For a team with lofty ambitions, the Mankato East girls basketball team couldn’t have scripted their season debut any better.
The Cougars, backed by an aggressive defense and efficient offense, scored the game’s first 18 points on the way to a 79-24 home win Tuesday over nonconference foe New Ulm.
“The girls were amped-up and came out ready to play, that’s for sure,” East head coach Mike Barger said. “It was good to get the nerves out of the way.”
Four minutes into the game, the Cougars defense had already forced seven turnovers, leading to easy fast break layups and a 16-0 cushion. With 14:10 left in the half, New Ulm’s Hunter Ahlness’s jumper finally got the Eagles on the board to put the score at 18-2.
“We were doing what we wanted to do,” Barger said. “Getting the ball up the floor, getting the post involved early and getting good looks. That was our game plan all week.”
Forward Bria Armstrong’s 3-pointer padded the Cougars lead to 34-5, while senior point guard Minnie Frederick’s relentless defense made it difficult — if not nearly impossible at times — for the Eagles to push the ball past half-court.
“We didn’t want to slow down the tempo,’ said Frederick, who finished with 13 points, eight steals and seven assists. “We just wanted to run our plays, and I just wanted to keep the team in order and look for someone who’s open.”
The Cougars entered halftime with a 48-12 lead. If Barger was looking for a weakness in his team’s first half play, he could find it in a familiar place — the free throw line, where the Cougars shot just 8 of 16 in the game’s first 18 minutes.
“That was our problem last year,” he said. “We’ve got to work on that in practice, and hopefully we’ll see some improvement there.”
The Cougars continued their dominance in the second half, scoring 21 of the half’s first 22 points, capped by Taylor Karge’s layup to put the lead at 69-13. Midway through the half, with the clock running, Barger had already pulled his starters.
“A lot of girls got to play,” Barger said, “so it was nice this early in the season to get a lot of players involved.”
Karge, a starting forward, scored 13 points; center Allison Taylor added 11 rebounds and six rebounds and guard Marta Anderson and forward Abby Connell each scored nine points. Ahlness led the Eagles with nine points.
East (1-0) plays Thursday at home against New Prague. New Ulm (0-1) plays Friday at home against Blue Earth Area.
“Thursday’s going to be a challenge,” Barger said. “I scouted New Prague the other night, and they’re a real good team. They’ll test us.”