By Denny Weller
Special to The Free Press
Senior wing Abby Connell’s 3-point barrage early in the second half provided the spark that propelled Mankato East to a 69-61 nonconference girl’s basketball win over No. 5-ranked Marshall on Saturday afternoon at the East gym.
Trailing 34-27, Connell blistered the nets three straight times — two off the left wing and another from the left baseline — from beyond the arc to rocket the Cougars into a 36-34 lead with 14:43 remaining. Connell, who was 0 for 4 from 3-point range in the first half, nailed another 3-pointer off the right wing to boost East into a 49-42 advantage at the 8:46 mark.
“I was finally going straight up with my shot and not thinking about it,” said Connell, who finished with 14 points. “It changed my attitude because I wasn’t feeling very confident after missing four in the first half.
“Once they had to start coming out on me, they had to guard Claire (Ziegler) 1-on-1 and she can score on anybody. I think defensively we were able to shut down their best players.
Ziegler, a 5-foot-11 junior post, came up big down the stretch, showing some tremendous inside moves in shredding the Tigers’ defense for 23 points. Ziegler’s left-handed banker and two foul shots gave East its biggest lead of the contest at 55-43 with 6:46 to go. Minnie Frederick, who collected nine points, 11 assists, five rebounds and five steals, then converted a three-point play off one of the Tigers’ 20 turnovers.
Marshall (6-1) fought back behind a pair of 3-pointers from sophomore guard Morgan Saugstad along with two baskets each from Sarah Andersen and Hannah Bennett, cutting the margin to 64-59 with 1:23 left. However, junior wing Taylor Karge converted a three-point play to cap her 17-point, seven-rebound performance and secure the Cougars’ victory.
“I told the girls at the half that they were sagging down on our post players so somebody was going to have to step up and hit some shots,” East coach Mike Barger said. “Abby’s shots were huge ... then they started to let our posts get the ball and Claire kind of took over. We changed our offense a bit at halftime and went to a bit easier one.”
The East win came despite trailing 31-25 at halftime.
“We knew they had a really good press and that we had to be ready for that,” said Ziegler, who also grabbed seven rebounds. “It’s been kind of a rough beginning for us, we’ve been kind of all over the place. We knew this was a big game for seeding in the section so we knew we had to come out and play hard.”
Marshall held a 33-30 rebounding edge. East connected on 27 of 54 from the field for 50 percent compared to the Tigers’ 21 of 47 for 47 percent. The Cougars also ended up with 20 turnovers, but just seven in the second half.
East (6-2) hosts Albert Lea January 1.