Tigers rally, edge Pirates for East title

BY Vance Carlson THE ENTERPRISE With the offense struggling, Scott Kramer challenged his players to pick up the intensity on the defensive end. That plea was answered as the Nevis girls basketball team advanced to the Section 6A championship game...

BY Vance Carlson


With the offense struggling, Scott Kramer challenged his players to pick up the intensity on the defensive end.

That plea was answered as the Nevis girls basketball team advanced to the Section 6A championship game.

The Tigers faced a 32-18 deficit against Verndale with 14:22 to play in Monday night's Section 6A East title game at the Park Rapids Century School gym. That's when Nevis went to a full-court pressure defense.


That pressure, and foul trouble by guards Hillary Kern and Cayla Collison, forced the No. 3-seeded Pirates into several turnovers down the stretch and sparked Nevis to a 42-41 victory.

"What a comeback! What else can you say?" said Nevis head coach Scott Kramer. "The one aspect of the game that I was most proud of was that the girls never gave up or thought they were out of it."

Verndale, which advanced to the title game with playoff wins over No. 6 Sebeka (63-42) and No. 2 Menahga (54-47), made only two baskets and missed 8 of 13 free throws in the final 14:22 as the Tigers rallied.

A free throw by Gretta Hjelseth at the 13:57 mark began the Tigers' comeback.

Ali Hesse scored off a rebound at the 13:06 mark and Jaci Heath followed with a layup off a turnover to make it 32-23 with 10:49 to play.

The Pirates expanded their lead to 35-24 with 6:56 remaining before two free throws by Hesse at the 6:55 mark, a jumper by Jill Wizik with 5:06 to play and a jumper by Hesse with 4:38 remaining closed the deficit to 36-30.

A layup by Christy Schmitz gave the Pirates a 38-30 lead with 3:59 remaining before the No. 1-seeded Tigers closed the margin to 39-37 with 2:38 left. Hesse hit a jumper at the 3:47 mark, Heath followed with a jumper at the 3:06 mark and Wizik connected on a 3-pointer with 2:38 remaining.

"I think the real turning point in the game was when Jill hit the 3 to cut the lead to 39-37," said Kramer. "The pressure was now solely on them."


Verndale missed three free throws and the Tigers capitalized as a layup by Hjelseth with 1:42 left and a basket off a rebound by Heath with 1:07 showing gave Nevis a 41-40 lead.

Anne Rittgers hit a free throw with 18 seconds remaining to give Nevis a 42-40 lead. Schmitz was fouled with seven seconds to play and made the first free throw to make it 42-41. Schmitz missed the second attempt and Rittgers ran out the clock after grabbing the rebound as Nevis celebrated its third Section 6A East title in the last five years.

"I just told the kids that we had to start hitting shots to have a chance and that we had to start pressing on every possession," said Kramer. "We were finally able to get some easy baskets when Kern got into foul trouble. The other big factor was when Collison went to the bench with four fouls. Without their two top guards in the game, we cut the deficit by pressing. They stopped trying to go to the basket and score and we were able to take more chances in the half-court press. Once we took the lead, they didn't make another shot from outside."

Nevis, which advanced to the finals with wins over No. 8 Cass Lake (71-54) and No. 5 Hill City (54-47), jumped out to an 8-2 lead with 12:14 to play in the first half behind layups by Rittgers and Heath and a jumper by Hesse.

Verndale responded with a 14-2 run. Collison hit two 3-pointers and Schmitz connected on a pair of jumpers during that stretch as the Pirates led 16-10 at the 6:26 mark.

Wizik hit a 3-pointer and Hesse scored inside to keep Nevis within 19-15 with 3:09 left, but a jumper by Kelly Stave and a 3-pointer by Schmitz gave Verndale a 24-16 lead at the half.

Collison opened the second half with a pair of 3-pointers as the Pirates extended their lead to 32-18. Nevis' defensive pressure and the inability of Verndale to make free throws enabled the Tigers to rally for the win.

"There were a number of factors that enabled us to win the game. After our 8-2 run to start the game, we just couldn't get any shots to drop and that caused us to get tight on offense. We didn't take good shots and we hurried everything on the offensive end," said Kramer. "You have to give Verndale a lot of credit. I thought they shot the ball from the perimeter as well as they have all year."


Hesse and Wizik scored 12 points each while Heath added 10 points and nine rebounds to lead the Tigers. Hesse and Rittgers also grabbed seven rebounds apiece while Wizik had four assists and three steals.

Collison finished with 14 points and Schmitz added 10 points for the Pirates, who finished the year with a 20-6 record. Five of those losses were to Menahga and Nevis.

Nevis carried a 26-2 record into Friday night's Section 6A title game against Ada-Borup. The winner of that game advances to the state Class A tournament to play the Section 5A winner March 16 at 1 p.m. at Williams Arena.

VERNDALE: Schmitz 4 1-5 10, Kern 1 3-4 5, Collison 5 0-0 14, Stave 1 2-5 4, Dailey 1 1-2 3, Schoon 1 1-2 3, Hejhal 1 0-0 2. Totals: 14 (FG), 8 of 18 (FT).

NEVIS: Hjelseth 1 2-4 4, Wizik 4 2-4 12, Hesse 5 2-5 12, Heath 5 0-0 10, Rittgers 1 1-2 3, Mastrian 0 0-0 0, M. Luebbert 0 1-2 1. Totals: 16 (FG), 8 of 17 (FT).

Halftime: Verndale 24, Nevis 16. Three-point field goals: Schmitz 1, Collison 4, Wizik 2. Total fouls: Verndale 18, Nevis 20. Fouled out: Kern, Wizik. Rebounds: Nevis (Heath 9, Hesse 7, Rittgers 7). Assists: Nevis (Wizik 4, Hjelseth 3). Steals: Nevis (Hesse 3, Wizik 3).

HILL CITY: Valley 1 0-4 3, Christenson 0 2-2 2, Bounds 1 0-0 2, Kingsley 5 1-2 11, Flynn 3 2-2 8, Clarke 6 2-4 16, Lampl 2 1-2 5. Totals: 18 (FG), 8 of 16 (FT).

NEVIS: Hjelseth 4 0-0 10, Hesse 6 2-2 14, Wizik 5 0-2 14, Heath 1 1-2 3, Rittgers 3 2-2 8, Mastrian 0 0-0 0, M. Luebbert 2 1-3 5. Totals: 21 (FG), 6 of 11 (FT).


Halftime: Nevis 33, Hill City 26. Three-point field goals: Hjelseth 2, Wizik 4. Rebounds: Nevis (Rittgers 12, Hesse 5, Hjelseth 5). Assists: Nevis (Wizik 9, Hjelseth 3). Steals: Nevis (Heath 5, Wizik 3).

What To Read Next
Get Local