PREP GIRLS BASKETBALL: Crusaders grind out a huge win against Heritage Christian Academy

MAYER – Mayer Lutheran senior Lexi Schermann stood at the free-throw line with a chance to extend her team’s lead late in a big game against rival Heritage Christian Academy. After missing both free throws, she didn’t let that bother her.

After her second miss, Schermann stole the ball right back, laid it up for two points, and gave the Crusaders a three-point lead with just over two minutes to go. That hustle play by Schermann sparked a 10-0 run for Mayer Lutheran to close out the game and come away with a 59-48 victory on their home floor Monday night.

“It’s frustrating, but sometimes when things like that happen, that’s when I feel the drive to go make that next play,” Schermann said. “You’ve got to forget about it. You just got to forget about the last play.”

Schermann’s steal and layup gave the Crusaders a three-point lead late, but it was the resilence that she showed that impressed her coach.

“It’s one of those things where, as a coach, it would be nice to make free throws,” Mayer Lutheran coach Kris Gustin said. “I looked at Emily on the bench, and then I look up and see Lexi has the ball, making a layup. I guess that’s what you call making up for it. It’s just a great hustle play. That’s her basketball smarts. That’s the mentality we want from our girls. Push that last play aside because there’s nothing you can do about it. Then, just go on and make the next play, and that’s what she did. It was a big play by her.”

Mayer Lutheran outscored the Eagles 10-0 in the final two and a half minutes to get the win. It wasn’t always pretty, but the Crusaders rallied around each other to pick up the big win over a Section 4A opponent.

“Sometimes, it was kind of nerve-racking,” Schermann said. “I thought we did a good job of keeping calm most of the time. We just really worked together and we play as a team. I think that’s what helps us. We always have each other’s back.”

“We really calmed things down when things got tense,” Morgan Chmielewski added. “We pushed the ball to our speed. We didn’t play to theirs.”

A basket inside from Lilly Wachholz gave Mayer Lutheran their biggest lead of the night at seven points, but the Eagles would not go away. An 8-0 run for Heritage Christian gave them their first lead of the game since 2-0, with just over 11 minutes left to play.

“During those times when they were up, I’m not even really rattled because I just have confidence in my team,” Schermann said. “I know that we can battle back. We’ve been down a couple of times during games throughout the season. I feel like, each time that happens, we just know that we can battle back together.”

Scherman’s confidence and demeanor paid off for the Crusaders. With the game tied at 44 with just over five minutes to go, it was Chmielewski who delivered one of the biggest shots of the game for Mayer Lutheran. Chmielewski received the handoff and drilled a 3-pointer from the corner to give her team a three-point lead and the momentum.

“She’s a really good 3-point shooter,” Gustin said. “Especially when she shoots in rhythm. She had a goal for herself to shoot at least three a game. I think in the first eight games of the season, she had shot six. We talked about getting her more shots. She came and took that handoff in the corner and just stroked it. That’s a huge shot. She’s a leader out there. She leads with her effort. You know you’re going to get hard work from her every time.”

Chmielewski’s 3-pointer set up Schermann’s big play after the missed free throws as Mayer Lutheran found a way to pull out the win against a team that’s given them fits the past few seasons. Heritage Christian has ended the Crusaders’ season the past three seasons as the two have grown into rivals on the court.

“This is turning into a rivalry,” Gustin said. “There’s a lot of respect both ways. Both teams have had a successful tradition in the last few years. It’s a battle. We knew it was going to be. Those girls play hard. They play physical. There were periods where we were a little bit worried because they were outplaying us. We needed to step up our play. There’s a lot of respect there, and you tip your hat to them and appreciate their love of the game and how hard they work.”

The win for the Crusaders puts them in the driver’s seat for the No. 1 seed in Section 4A. While it’s a big win, Mayer Lutheran knows how important it is to keep getting better as the season goes on.

“I think this game gives us a lot of confidence,” Schermann said. “We know that we can beat them, but we also know, at the same time, that we can’t just think we’re going to beat them. We know that next time if we play them, they’re going to come out hard and ready to beat us. We just have to stay strong and do the things we do.”

“We know what each other are capable of,” Chmielewski added. “We just know that we never give up. We just keep playing.”

For the complete story and more HJ sports coverage, check out the Friday, Jan. 24 edition of the Herald Journal. Click here for subscription information.

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