Defense fuels Tigers’ key Big East win

KAITLYNN NEAR of Howards Grove attempts to shoot over Oostburg’s Talia Hranicka in Tuesday’s BEC basketball game. The Tigers’ Sam Yancy watches. – Photo by Terry Schaller KAITLYNN NEAR of Howards Grove attempts to shoot over Oostburg’s Talia Hranicka in Tuesday’s BEC basketball game. The Tigers’ Sam Yancy watches. – Photo by Terry Schaller HOWARDS GROVE – The Howards Grove Tigers used an 11-2 run in the first nine minutes of the second half to key an impressive 56- 40 win over Oostburg in a battle of Big East Conference girls basketball powerhouses here Tuesday night.

The Tigers upped their BEC record to 3-0 (4-1 overall) and share first place with Kohler. HG is the defending regular-season league cochampion with Oostburg. Oostburg, which won the BEC Tournament last season, dropped to 2-1 in the conference (3-3 overall).

After Talia Hranicka’s basket inside brought the Lady Dutch to within 30-25 at the 10:30 mark in the second half, the Tigers went on their 11-2 spurt which gave them a 41-27 lead with 9:05 left. Brittany Schaller kick-started the run with a three-pointer.

Addi Gerber scored the Tigers’ final four points which capped off the stretch. Gerber drove across the lane to score and then drilled a short jumper.

The Tigers led by at least 11 the rest of the way. HG scored nine of its last 11 points at the free-throw line.

Oostburg trailed 17-7 with 7:43 left in the first half. The Lady Dutch rallied back with a 15-6 tear which shaved the Tigers’ lead to 23-22 at the 1:15 mark. Allie Toeller hit five points, including a three-ball, to spark the comeback.

HG scored the final five points of the first half to go up 28-22. Olivia Stauss tallied the final four points on a driving layup and a follow-up basket after she rebounded her missed free throw.

The Tigers’ tough, man-to-man defense surrendered few easy shots by Oostburg. HG was strong on its defensive board – often times holding the Lady Dutch to one shot. Oostburg shot only 30 percent overall from the field.

HG’s defense held Oostburg’s top-two scorers this season, center Aimee Bichler (first in scoring) and point guard Olivia Merrdink, to only a combined 12 points – eight by Bichler and four by Meerdink.

“We always hang our hat on our defense and that showed tonight. Our defense kind of won out,” said Tiger head coach Heidi Georgeff.

“It was a total team effort. Everyone contributed. This is obviously a huge win but we certainly can’t let up.”

Senior guard/forward Kaitlynn Near led the Tigers’ balanced attack with 15 points. Senior forward Sam Yancy had a double-double – scoring 11 points and grabbing a teamhigh 11 rebounds.

Yancy also had an impressive eight steals which led HG. Schaller contributed 11 points, and Stauss came off the bench to net 10. Schaller paced the Tigers in assists with six. Stauss led in blocked shots with two.

The Tigers outscored Oostburg 17-5 at the foul line.

“This is one of the biggest wins of the conference season,” said Schaller, a senior guard.

“We played super-good defense. Sam and Ashley [Reinemann] did a super job against their big scorers [Yancy on Bichler, and Reinemann against Meerdink].

“We did a lot more driving rather than just chucking up shots,” said Schaller.

The Tigers scored several points on drives and by working the ball inside.

Toeller led Oostburg in scoring with 15 off the bench. Bichler had a team-high six boards. Meerdink and Karri Jo Fischer led in assists with three each.

“Howards played a great game. They played with heart and intensity. Unfortunately, we did not bring our best tonight. Our team is better than what we put on the floor,” said Lady Dutch head coach Lisa Immel.

“They were patient and finished on the offensive end of the floor. We were the opposite – we settled for shots and forced things that weren’t there.

“Howard Grove is always a defensive-minded team. Heidi does a great job of instilling pride in her players on that end of the floor. They controlled the game, excluding three minutes at the end of the first half, and that started for them on the defensive end of the floor,” said Immel.

“Allie Toeller played a great game for us. Allie is our sixth man off the bench and continues to improve and play with some real fire and passion to improve every day.”

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