Tall, talented and tough: a few words to describe the Mayer Lutheran girls basketball squad this season. They used all three of those attributes to take down local rival and section foe Lester Prairie Tuesday, their size and skill pushing them to a 38-22 halftime lead and their toughness showing when they stomped out a small Bulldogs run in the second half due to diluted Crusader shot selection. Ultimately Mayer Lutheran prevailed 69-46, adding another quality win to their resume as a top-10 Class A team.
“They’re a really well-coached team and have some very good players,” Crusaders head coach Kris Gustin said. “But we knew we had a size advantage and when they came out in man-to-man our high-low was going to be effective for us.”
Mayer’s size at every position was a clear factor on both ends of the floor, deterring many Lester Prairie shots in the paint and grabbing offensive rebounds for putbacks to cushion the lead. The Bulldogs were also without leading scorer Marissa Radtke Tuesday. The handful of games this season Lester Prairie’s competed in without her have revealed some players that can step up. Against a big, strong, talented team like Mayer Lutheran, why not look to eighth-grade point guard Addison Hoof for that boost?
Hoof’s energy on the glass and prowess for swiping the ball from opponents to ignite the fast break gave the Bulldogs life both early on and in the 10-0 second half run to cut the lead back to single digits. Oh, and she was the smallest player on the floor, too.
“It was her fast break,” Lee said of Hoof leading the charge. “She’s so quick. I think the whole team played well, having to play a little differently without Marissa.”
It seemed shorthanded Lester Prairie would keep it tight through the first nine minutes of the game, the Crusaders leading just 14-12; a quick explosion in the form of a 24-10 run to end the half put Mayer in a better position. They had pretty much everything working on the offensive end as long as they were patient. When things got a little too relaxed with the lead, that’s when Lester Prairie’s efforts paid off to make it a close game again. Hoof caught Mayer Lutheran flat-footed a few times beating them down the floor after a hurried shot attempt or steal.
“I thought we were maybe a little impatient at times,” Gustin said. “We talked at halftime about coming out with a killer instinct, and when you’ve got a team on the ropes like that, you have to push through and take control of the game. The exact reverse happened. I thought we got good shots, but they were jump shots; we really wanted to get the ball inside.”
“They did a good job of getting us to turn over the ball,” Mayer Lutheran senior Morgan Chmielewski said. “Sometimes we get kind of excited and push a little too much. But at the end we pulled it together and executed a little better.”
Four Crusaders hit double figures thanks to some deft passing on the interior for paint shots. Guard Emma Lade led the way with 20 points while Chmielewski and Carns added 14 apiece. Lilly Wachholz had a strong presence inside for 10 points as well. As for the home stretch of the regular season, they’ll stick to their guns in the lane and play off of that strength.
“We just need to keep pushing the ball and getting it inside,” Chmielewski said. “Then we can kick out to shooters too. We’re getting pretty good at that.”
Balance, depth and unselfishness usually translates to the postseason — which is looming large with four games to go in the regular season and a couple big challenges left on the schedule for Mayer Lutheran in Minnehaha Academy and Heritage Christian on the road.
“We have two conference games that we have to take care of,” Gustin said. “The girls have a conference championship as one of their goals. The second goal is to be the number one seed in our section. That Heritage game really matters; this year it’s home court advantage in the playoffs. We’re happy to be tested and ultimately glad to be playing good competition at the end of the season.”
For Lester Prairie, a quartet of games over the next 11 days to close the regular season will be big for momentum into a possible rematch with Mayer Lutheran during the 4A playoffs. If they battle like they did Tuesday, no outcome is out of the question.
“We competed with a really, really good team. They’re near the top of QRF in the state and well-deserving,” Lee said. “They’re a big team. I thought our smaller girls did a really nice job against them.”
Taylor Ebert scored 14, Lizzy Anderson eight and Addison Hoof seven for the Bulldogs.
For the complete story and more Herald Journal sports coverage, check out the March 5 edition of the Herald Journal. Click here for subscription information.
Follow Jared Martinson on Twitter: @JaredNHR