LESTER PRAIRIE – The idea of small town basketball is alive and well. While the gym on both sides of Lester Prairie High School was packed with faithful fans from Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted and Lester Prairie/Holy Trinity, the girls basketball teams battled it out to close out the regular season.
In the end, it was the Bulldogs who rallied their way to a thrilling 58-53 victory on their home court against its cross town rival.
“It was nice that we got the win,” LP/HT coach Mike Lee said. “They grinded it out is what it was. We didn’t let the reffing affect us too much. There was a lot of fouls. We played through that, and Howard Lake did a nice job of playing through it, too.”
After both offenses struggled to get anything rolling offensively with 27 fouls in the first half between the two teams, freshman Marissa Radtke brought the spark that the Bulldogs desperately needed to start the second half.
“She was very focused tonight,” Lee said. “When she’s focused, she’s a really good shooter. She was focused the second half four sure. It was nice to see. She’s a streaker shooter right now being young, but most kids are when you are young.”
Despite not getting one 3-pointer to fall in the first half, Radtke knocked down three-straight 3-pointers to open the second half on a 9-0 run for the Bulldogs to get them right back in the game after trailing by 12 at the half.
“I think it was just to drive in at the other team with foul trouble, and then that would make it an easier game at the end,” Radtke said. “Just to get our team back into the game was a big thing for us. Just having everybody scoring and coming together was so great.”
While Radtke’s hot shooting brought the Bulldogs within three to start the second half, HLWW’s CJ Decker wasn’t going to let it go that easy. Decker calmed her team down, and helped right the ship by finding the right balance between scoring and passing, while also being able to stay out of foul trouble after two quick ones in the first half.
“Decker did a very nice job of not picking up another foul after getting her first two,” Lee said. “We tried to go at her a bit, but she’s just a nice player that way. She was smart. It’s nice our girls tried, but they didn’t have much success.”
While Decker was able to stay on the court and avoid foul trouble, much of the Bulldogs were not. Seniors Jenna Doelzal and Emma Blashack both dealt with four fouls for much of the second half, which forced freshman Taylor Ebert into the mix a bit more than usual.
Fresh off hitting the game-winner in the junior varsity game at the buzzer, Ebert kept her stellar play going by making big plays down the stretch for the Bulldogs.
“She handled herself pretty well,” Lee said. “She did a nice job. She had a great night. She hit the game-winner in JV, and hit the game winner for varsity. That’s a pretty good night.”
A 3-pointer from Ebert tied the game at 51 with just under three minutes to go, but Ebert was just getting started.
“I just tried to do what ever I could,” Ebert said. “We just did what we had to do.”
After a pair of free throws from Jenna Dolezal gave the Bulldogs its first lead of the game, Decker had the answer with a bucket on the other end to tie the game. With one minute exactly left on the clock following a timeout from LP/HT, Ebert stepped to the line after being fouled with a chance to win the game for the Bulldogs.
After calmly knocking down the first one, Ebert came up just short on the second free throw. That didn’t faze Ebert, as she grabbed the rebound and put it back in to give the Bulldogs a 56-53 lead with just 23.4 seconds left to play.
“Ebert missing the second one and getting the rebound and putting it in probably was a good thing,” Lee said. “You never want to miss, but it worked out for us. That put a lot of pressure on them to make a three.”
With the pressure on the Lakers, it was Dolezal who came away with a steal and found fellow senior Kayla Weinzierl wide open for the game-sealing layup to complete the exciting win for the Bulldogs.
“I love it,” Radtke said. “Especially since I came from there. I’m so glad that we finally came together as a team. We just got going. We wanted it at practice, and I’m just so glad that we came through.”
The battle between the Lakers and Bulldogs closes out the regular season for both teams as they turn their attention to the postseason which begins next week. With the win, the Bulldogs should have secured a home game in the first round of the Section 4A tournament, and will be looking to build off a gritty win. The Bulldogs will receive their seed Saturday morning when the Section 4A seeds are announced.
“They’re awfully happy in the locker room which is nice to see,” Lee said. “Hopefully, we’ll get a first-round game here. If it works out that way, that’s all we can ask for.”
“We definitely have some things to work on,” Radtke said. “I’m really excited. It’s going to be tough, but we’re going to get through it.”
For the Lakers, they know where they will be headed for its first postseason matchup. The Lakers got the No. 12 seed in the Section 5AA tournament, and will travel to No. 5 Annandale for a first-round matchup with the Cardinals. Annandale defeated HLWW 60-49 in their only meeting this season. The Lakers are Cardinals will battle it out Thursday, March 1 at 7 p.m. in Annandale.
For more info on the Bulldogs and Lakers as the playoffs begin, stay connected with the Herald Journal. You can also follow Kip Kovar on Twitter to stay up to date with all your favorite teams.