By Shane Frederick
Free Press Sports Editor
A quick start, some balanced scoring and a whole lot of pressure defense.
It’s a recipe that’s worked for the Mankato Loyola girls basketball team throughout the regular season, so there was no reason to change it in the Crusaders’ first playoff game Tuesday night at the Fitzgerald gym.
“I think we came out with bigger intensity,” junior guard Aunikah Bastian said. “We want to get to state. We really, really want to do this.”
Three players reached double figures and Loyola, the top seed in the Section 2A, South Subsection tournament, compiled 25 steals in the 68-38 win over eighth-seeded Red Rock Central.
Lindsey Theuninck led the Crusaders with 12 points. Jordyn Strachan had 11 points and Elizabeth Ninneman had 10.
“Three girls right now are averaging 10, 12 points a game,” coach Rick Theuninck said. “You don’t come in here thinking you have to shut down one person. All five on the court have the green light to shoot. … But we have no selfish players.”
The Crusaders got off to a quick start, as Lindsey Theuninck gave them an 8-0 lead a little more than a minute in. She had all of the points with a put-back under the basket followed by a pair of 3-pointers.
Later, a 14-0 run put Loyola up 24-5 with 11 minute to play. Jordyn Theuninck and Ninneman each had four points in the run, and Ninneman had a nifty assist on Jordyn Strachan’s basket at the post.
“That’s been how our whole season has gone,” coach Theuninck said. “We start really quick. As soon as we start going, we can get in our press, and that’s where so much of our offense comes from.”
The Falcons caught a small spark after that and went on their own 10-0 run to cut Loyola’s lead to 11 with 6:52 to play.
But the Crusaders’ drought didn’t last long. They closed the first half with a 10-1 run. With the final seconds ticking away, Bastian launched and swished a long-range 3-pointer for the 34-16 lead.
“I heard coach say there were six seconds left,” said Bastian, who had five points, seven rebounds and six assists. “It magically went in.”
A three-point play by Alyssa Mettler in the opening moments of the second half put Loyola up by 21 points. The closest Red Rock Central would get after that was when it trimmed the deficit to 15 points.
Mettler finished with nine points, all in the second half.
Lindsey Theuninck also dished out five assists, Jordyn Theuninck had six steals and Annie Nawrocki had 10 rebounds.
For Red Rock Central, Cassandra Erickson led the way with nine points.
The Crusaders (22-2) will play Mountain Lake Area at 6 p.m. Saturday at Lake Crystal Wellcome Memorial High School.