Tiger girls up to the challenge vs Vikings

MARSHALL – In a battle of state-ranked teams, it’s often the little things that make a difference.

When Marshall, the No. 8 team in Class AAA, and Minneota, the No. 5 team in Class A, met on Tuesday night, the little things came into play.

“It was a three-goal thing, and one of them was two-fold,” said Minneota head coach Chad Johnston. “I told the girls what we needed to do is handle the pressure – Marshall’s pressure and the pressure of a tight game. The third was playing confident.”

The Tigers won at the free throw line and with turnovers to edge the Vikings 61-56.

Marshall was 22-for-28 at the line, while Minneota was 8-17.

“That’s two games in a row where we’ve been in the 20s in terms of made free throws,” said Marshall head coach Dan Westby. “That’s something we need to continue to do.”

In the first half the Vikings (13-2 overall) came out hot, building a 7-0 lead before the Tigers (13-2) were able to get on the board.

“I think a lot of it was taking care of the ball and being aggressive,” Johnston said. “That was really key.”

With his team up 9-3, Johnston was called for a technical foul. The made free throws made it a 9-5 game.

Marshall slowly worked its way back into the game and earned its first tie at 19 with a Kelsey Saugstad basket. The Tigers got their first lead, 22-21, when Steph Baker hit a 3, but two quick baskets and a free throw from Taylor Reiss gave the Vikings a 26-22 lead with 6 minutes, 48 seconds left in the half.

“More people were taking shots than usual and they weren’t expecting some of those people to take shots,” Reiss said.

The two teams continued to battle in the first half with four ties and three lead changes. When the dust settled it was a Megan Larson shot for Minneota with eight seconds left in the half that sent the Vikings in with a 41-39 lead.

“We talked about having to hustle back on defense,” Saugstad said. “That’s how they were getting a lot of points. We had to make our drops and find their shooters.”

In the second half the Tigers again chipped into the Minneota lead before regaining it, 46-45, on a pair of Sarah Buysse free throws.

The Tigers built their largest lead of the night to that point, 49-45, when Kenzie Beekman scored two of her team-high 14 points.

“We had to start competing, because we didn’t compete hard in the first half,” Beekman said.

Beekman gave the Tigers the largest lead of the night, 55-47, but Minneota made a late charge, going on a 6-0 run capped with two of Reiss’ game-high 18 points, to cut the Marshall lead down to 55-53 with 1:21 left to play.

The Vikings stole the in-bounds pass and a wild exchange ensued, ending with a Minneota miss.

The Vikings held the ball late, but were unable to find their shot.

“We have a lot of young players, and Marshall does too,” Johnston said. “A lot of people wait and see who’s going to take it, and at the end we had to have that perfect shot. We took too much time trying to get a shot off. Hopefully we can learn from this.”

The Tigers were 6-for-6 from the line in the final 61 seconds, holding off the Vikings down to the wire.

“We should be a good free throw-shooting team,” Westby said. “We have some kids that can shoot it from the outside, so we should be able to hit a free throw.”

Minneota is in action again on Thursday when the Vikings travel to Renville to face Renville County West in Camden Conference play, while Marshall travels to Sioux Falls, S.D., where the Tigers will face the top-ranked Washington girls ‘team on Friday.

“We’re going to have to defend better than we did tonight,” said Westby. “We’re going to have to defend for four quarters down there in South Dakota at Washington.

“That’s a game where we can’t afford to fall behind, because playing catch-up with a good team like that will be difficult.”