Hopp leads New Ulm by Mankato West in home quarterfinals game

Staff photo by Travis Rosenau New Ulm’s Ramsey Hopp looks to keep the ball away from Mankato West’s Ella Mullenbach (5) and Jillian Olsen during a Section 2AAA Girls Basketball Tournament quarterfinals game at New Ulm High School on Wednesday night.

NEW ULM — In their first home playoff game since the 2018-19 season, the New Ulm Eagles weren’t going to let Wednesday night’s Section 2AAA girls basketball playoff game get away from them.

Behind Ramsey Hopp’s 20 points and seven rebounds, the No. 4-seeded Eagles held off No. 5-seeded Mankato West 64-58 in a section quarterfinals game at New Ulm High School.

New Ulm will next travel to Gustavus Adolphus College for a semifinals matchup with No. 1-seeded St. Peter at 6 p.m. Saturday.

The last time the Eagles hosted a playoff game came on Feb. 26, 2019, where Hutchinson came to town and came away with a 51-49 win.

This year was different as the Eagles (21-6) held off a sharpshooting Scarlets (11-16) team that was all in on earning an upset.

Morgan Hulke added 14 points for New Ulm, while Maddie Backer had 10 points.

The Scarlets were led by Olivia “Tucker” Downs and Ella Mullenbach, who each had 20 points.

“I think everybody just has to step up and take their turn,” Hopp said. “Maddie’s job tonight was to play good defense on Tucker. Everybody just had to get rebounds and boards because we knew they were going to go after them, so everybody had a job to do. Everybody just took care of their own job.”

Neither team led by more than 7 points all game, with the Eagles making a small 6-0 run late to pull ahead 61-54. Hopp started that run with a layup before Leah Brustad scored a layup of her own.

After a scoreless stretch and a foul gave Hopp a one-and-one chance at the foul line, Hopp sank both free throws with 33.5 seconds left to play to give New Ulm a 61-54 lead.

Mankato West got two more shots to fall by Mullenbach in the closing 30 seconds, but New Ulm got a pair of one-and-one free throws by Brooklyn Lewis also in the middle of those baskets to keep the Scarlets at bay. Lewis missed a one-and-one free throw with 7.8 seconds left, but Hopp grabbed the rebound and was wrestled to the floor on a jump ball which saw the Eagles retain possession.

Backer then added another bonus free throw with less than a second left to give the Eagles their final point and win.

After Hulke scored New Ulm’s first 6 points of the game, she got Hopp in on the scoring after finding her open for a 3 that put the Eagles up 9-6. With the defensive looks Mankato West was showing, the Eagles continued swinging the ball around the key and looking for open shots.

“They were playing a zone, obviously, so that opens up more shots for us as shooters, which is really nice,” Hulke said. “We all can shoot the ball and when we go around the arc, they just kick it out and it opens up our shots a lot more.”

Neither team led by more than 4 until Hopp drained a 3 and then added a free throw to put New Ulm up 27-22 with 4:02 left in the first half.

After Backer scored to give New Ulm a 32-27 lead, the Scarlets got a 3 by Rachel Younge and a pair of one-and-one free throws from Downs to tie the game up in the final minute of the half. Betsy Joyce scored inside on the other end with less than 10 seconds to go in the half to put New Ulm up 34-32 at halftime.

New Ulm increased its lead to 38-32 early in the second half, but Mankato West kept fighting and eventually tied it at 42-all on a corner 3 by Jillian Olsen.

Hopp answered with a putback bucket before Hulke drained a 3 to give New Ulm a 47-42 lead, but Mullenbach and Younge hit 3s to put Mankato West back in front 48-47.

Hopp then hit another 3 to give New Ulm a 50-48 lead. The Scarlets never regained the lead after that.

“Kudos to them, they shot well,” Hopp said. “We weren’t expecting them to shoot that well. They’re very physical, so they get a lot of loose balls, so we’ve got to just command the boards better.”

The win was extra special for New Ulm as it was playing without senior leader Daviney Dreckman, who had her season cut short on Jan. 27 with a knee injury.

“It’s big, especially that we got a home playoff game, we haven’t had that in a while,” Hulke said. “It means a lot. We obviously played for D [Daviney] because she was out on the sideline hurt and we just wanted to do everything for her, everything for our team. But the playoff win does mean a lot.”

With a tall task of taking down the top-seeded Saints on Saturday, Hulke said making shots and avoiding turnovers will be important.

“I think the biggest key is making our shots and taking care of the basketball because they have a lot of pressure defense,” Hulke said. “So we just need to take care of the ball, keep running the court and play good defense on their top two guards.”

The Saints defeated the Eagles twice this season, their first being a 59-33 win in St. Peter and their last a 74-71 win in New Ulm.


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