Tiger girls lock down Pioneers, earn 54-37 win

MARSHALL – Saturday marked the end of a tough week of games for the Marshall girls’ basketball team. The Tigers had played ranked teams on Tuesday and Friday, and entering Saturday afternoon’s game against Hill-Murray, head coach Dan Westby wondered how his squad would respond after losing to Sioux Falls Washington, the top-ranked team in South Dakota, by 16 points the previous night.

The response was strong and decisive. The Tigers came out with tremendous energy on the defensive end and shut down the taller Pioneers for a 54-37 victory to snap Hill-Murray’s six-game winning streak.

Following a late Friday night for the team after arriving back home from its border battle with unbeaten Sioux Falls Washington, Marshall certainly didn’t show any signs of wear for its 3:30 p.m. game Saturday.

“That was a concern. We didn’t get back into town until about 11:30 (Friday night),” Westby said. “It was three tough opponents this week with a very good Minneota team on Tuesday and then a very good Washington team last night and another good team today. This was a big win for us against a quality team.”

Junior forward Kenzie Beekman led eighth-ranked Marshall (Class AAA) with 16 points and eight rebounds. She was also a terror on the defensive end. The Tigers (14-3 overall) finished with 11 steals for the game, but also had 38 deflections. Playing on the front line of Marshall’s full-court pressure defense, Beekman had 17 of those deflections herself.

“She’s a very good athlete, she’s got long arms, she’s extremely disruptive and she’s a very big part of what we do defensively,” Westby said of Beekman.

The Pioneers (9-6) started two senior centers – 6-foot-3 Kaitlin Langer and 6-foot-2 Tessa Doolittle – but their size proved relatively ineffective against the much smaller Tigers. Langer entered the game averaging 13.2 points per game. She finished with just six points, while Doolittle was held scoreless.

Marshall jumped out to an 8-0 lead following a 3-pointer by senior guard Hannah Bennett. The Pioneers didn’t get their first basket until 4 minutes, 27 seconds into the game when sophomore guard Olivia Graskewicz hit one of her three 3-pointers in the first half.

Utilizing its pressure defense to create turnovers and get out in transition, the Tigers saw their lead grow to 31-9 with 4:15 left in the half after Beekman knocked down a 3. The Tigers led 35-20 at the half.

“I thought we ran the floor well in the first half,” Westby said. “Defensively, giving up 20 in the first half and 17 in the second half to a team like this, that’s a pretty good effort by our kids.”

Marshall sophomore Sarah Buysse had the tough task of chasing Graskewicz around screens through much of the game. Graskewicz, the Pioneers’ leading scorer for the season, had 11 points in the first half, but was limited to just a pair of free throws in the second half and was never able to help Hill-Murray threaten the Tigers’ double-digit lead. No other Pioneer player scored more than six points in the game.

Senior guard Kelsey Saugstad joined Beekman in double figures for the Tigers, putting up 12 points. Buysse had six points, three steals and four assists.

After going 2-1 in their stretch of tough non-conference games, the Tigers return to Southwest Conference action Tuesday with a road game against Jackson County Central. Beekman said the stretch taught the team that it needs to play with the same energy it brought to the court Saturday in all of its games.

“We need to start being consistent and play hard every single night,” Beekman said. “We’re a good team, we just have to play like this every single night.”