Spurgin sparks MVL past St. Mary’s

Staff photo by Steve Muscatello Sleepy Eye St. Mary’s Cassie Heinrichs (13) takes a shot between Lauren Paulsen (32) and Abby Nelson of Minnesota Valley Lutheran during the first half Monday in Sleepy Eye. For more photos of this event go to cu.nujournal.com

SLEEPY EYE — Minnesota Valley Lutheran avenged its earlier loss this season to Sleepy Eye St. Mary’s on Monday night with a 23-for-27 night at the foul line and a 74-63 victory in Tomahawk Conference girls’ basketball action.

Maddie Spurgin led the Chargers (12-12, 7-7) with 20 points and was 12 for 12 from the free throw line. Emma Nelson added 14 points and nine rebounds for MVL, while Abby Nelson had a 10-point, 12-rebound double-double.

Also for the Chargers, Haley Birkholz had 11 points, nine rebounds and four assists.

Cassie Heinrichs led the attack for St. Mary’s (17-6, 9-6) with 21 points, while Jody Hansen had 12 points, seven rebounds, four assists and four steals. Sydney Windschitl added 11 points and five boards for the Knights, while Madison Mathiowetz chipped in 11 points.

The Knights came from 15 points down to beat the Chargers at MVL on Jan. 12, but this time, the Chargers were able to hold on and get a little payback in the process.

MVL coach Rollin Timm was proud of his team’s ability to knock down free throws, especially in the clutch, and said that the recent play by his squad has led to more confidence.

“We’ve been building confidence the last two-three weeks — even in some of the losses that we’ve had,” Timm said. “To Sleepy Eye, we were up on them in the second half a little bit until we had a lapse. Cedar Mountain, we played them real strong last week, we handled Cathedral okay last Friday and now coming here to win this game, it’s a good week for us. It’s been a good couple of weeks as we’ve been growing and gaining confidence in the way we play.”

MVL jumped out to an early 11-4 lead after a 9-0 run. A layup by Birkholz put the Chargers up 17-7 and forced a Knights’ timeout with 9:24 left in the half.

After an and-one by Lauren Paulsen, who had 8 points on the night, and a bucket inside by Abby Nelson, the Chargers pushed their lead up to 28-12 with just minutes to go in the half. St. Mary’s, down 16, cut the deficit to 30-24 at the half, led by a pair of 3s by Sara Zinniel and one by Hansen.

Back-to-back buckets by St. Mary’s began the second half and forced an MVL timeout. MVL increased its lead back up to 40-31, though, after a 3 by Spurgin. Heinrichs answered the 3 back right after to cut the Knights’ deficit back down to 40-34 with less than 15 minutes remaining.

Another 3 by Heinrichs brought the Knights back within 1, 46-45, with a little more than 11 minutes to play. The Chargers continued knocking down free throws, though, and after Spurgin hit 6 of 6 at the line in the final minute, MVL was able to run away with the win.

The loss was tough for the Knights as it was their fourth loss in the last five games, but St. Mary’s coach Bruce Woitas said that the biggest goal nearing playoffs is simply getting everyone back healthy. Mallory Helget was out for the Knights because of the flu.

Woitas said that he had to give credit to MVL for its tough play and victory, though.

“They [St. Marys’ girls] played hard, but you’ve gotta give MVL credit, they played really well,” Woitas said. “We had trouble stopping their inside game at times and anytime we battled back, they hit some big shots or hit a big 3, so give them a lot of credit. They hit free throws at the end to kind of ice it away.”

MVL travels to Winthrop to take on Gibbon-Fairfax-Winthrop on Friday, while St. Mary’s hosts Cedar Mountain/Comfrey on Thursday.