By Denny Weller
Special to The Free Press
Mankato West’s spirited rally fell short Friday night as Winona held off the pesky Scarlets 52-46 in a Big Nine Confernce girls basketball game at the West gym.
West (5-12 overall, 3-8 in the Big Nine) trailed 33-25 at halftime and quickly found itself down 41-29 when the Winhawks’ Audrey Scharmer put through a layup of an inbound pass underneath. Scharmer scored 11 of her 16 points in the second half in helping the Winhawks hold off a Scarlets’ surge and improve to 11-8 overall and 9-3 in the Big Nine.
“I think we picked our defense up in the second half and didn’t allow those easy passes into the post,” West senior forward Cara Christiansen said. “We also finished down low better and took one possession at a time to get back within 48-46. But then we didn’t execute on the next two possessions, had to foul and there’s the game.”
West began its comeback when Christiansen hit two foul shots and back-to-back medium-range jumpers. Freshman guard Lexi Schoper fired in a left-side 3-pointer moments later to pull the Scarlets within 42-38 with 8:23 remaining. Scharmer then nailed a pair off the right elbow before a basket from Mallory Veroeven and two hoops from Schoper — an inbound layup and slashing drive to the cup — trimmed the Winhawks’ advantage to 48-46 with 2:36 to go.
After senior guard Anna Eddy’s free throw made it 49-46, the Scarlets missed on a three chances and Winona sealed things with foul shots from Eddy and Dulcey Milek. The Winhawks converted 16 of 26 from the foul line compared to West’s 9 of 12. West connected on just 17 of 54 from the field for 31.4 percent and 3 of 18 from 3-point range.
“We played more as a team in the second half and made better passes,” said Schoper, who totaled 13 points and four steals. “We took care of the ball more and pushed our defense to get more steals. Things will happen if we keep playing hard.”
Senior post Ellen Blacklock’s 16-point burst over the opening 18 minutes — 6 of 6 from the line and five close-range baskets — helped the Winhawks gain control early on. The Scarlets limited her to just two foul shots in the second half while forcing 14 second-half turnovers.
Winona closed the game with 21 miscues compared to the Scarlets’ 17 for the game and five in the second half. Winona won the boards 38-32 behind 16 from Blacklock and 12 from Scharmer. Christiansen led the Scarlets with 16 points and eight rebounds. Sophomore Jen Larsen scored six points and had six rebounds for West.
“We had it in our grasp but couldn’t close it,” West first-year coach Kristin Krusemark said. “We put more defensive pressure on in the second half but when it came down to it we didn’t execute and turned the ball over at key times.
“What it comes down to is, we have to do the right things at the right times. They hurt us on the glass and even though we stressed it in practice, we didn’t get it done rebounding tonight.”
West hosts Rochester John Marshall Tuesday.