Dazzling Stewartville girls just miss on a state title
Benilde-St. Margaret's had just enough to come back late in the second half and beat Stewartville in the Class AAA girls basketball championship.
MINNEAPOLIS — That state championship dream didn’t work out for the Stewartville girls basketball team.
But the Tigers’ loss Saturday had not a thing to do with a lack of heart or fight. They were tremendous in both departments
And then there is this: It might have just been a Stewartville warmup. These Tigers, at state for the first time in school history, are ultra-young and ultra-talented. Three of their top players are freshmen. And their top player Saturday, aggressive guard/forward Savannah Hedin with her 17 points and five rebounds, is a junior.
So maybe next season, and the next and the next.
“Our team can be great next year,” Hedin said. “We know now that we can do things. We’ll come back and work even harder next year.”
Maybe even win a state championship, something they came oh-so-close to doing Saturday.
After knocking off the No. 1 ranked team in the state on Thursday, Stewartville couldn’t do the same against the No. 2 team, Benilde-St. Margaret’s as the teams met in the Class AAA title game Saturday night at Williams Arena. The Red Knights prevailed 66-60.
But goodness, were the Tigers ever close.
After a troubled shooting first half for No. 4-ranked Stewartville, the contest turned epic.
That had everything to do with the Tigers straightening those shots out. With Stewartville now getting contributions from a vast array of players, it suddenly looked like it might not just give the Red Knights a scare, but haul off with the state championship.
Stewartville had trailed by 11 points at halftime Thursday in its semifinal giant killing of Becker. So, the eight-point halftime deficit it was staring at in the championship fazed it not at all.
“We were down by 11 against Becker, so we knew we could come back,” Stewartville standout point guard Haylie Strum said.
Instead of being bothered by that deficit, the Tigers just dug into it.
“Our aggression is what got us back into the game,” Stewartville coach Ryan Liffrig said. “I couldn’t be more proud of the heart of every kid we have. We were right there with (Benilde-St. Margaret’s). We had a chance to win.”
Substitute freshman guard Audrey Shindelar hit a 3-pointer with 14 minutes left, freshman forward Jayci Rath hit one a minute after that, then substitute Taylor Klement buried one, before one more reserve — Avery Spencer — converted a tough layup and was fouled, also hitting the free throw.
By the time all of that was in the books, Stewartville was not only in the game, it was leading 48-47.
Stewartville suddenly looked on the brink of winning its 27th straight game and ending as state champion. Strum had things looking even more promising when she converted a driving shot.
With 6:54 left, the Stewartville offense now fully ignited and its defense allowing the Red Knights next to nothing, the Tigers led 50-47.
It wouldn’t last. Bit by bit, Benilde-St. Margaret’s came back to life. The shot of the game was delivered with 3:17 remaining and it came from a girl — Sierre Lumpkin — who delivered a bunch of them Saturday as she played the game of her life en route to finishing with 21 points and hitting 5 of 6 3-point attempts.
“To their credit, they had some kids who stepped up and hit shots that normally don’t,” Liffrig said. “At least according to our scouting report. But hats off to them for doing that.”
It was a Lumpkin 3-pointer then that put the Red Knights on top 56-53. Stewartville’s Shindelar countered with a two-pointer, but then BSM was one better, Lumpkin again burying a deep ball.
Suddenly, the Red Knights were up by four, and this time Stewartville had no answer.
The Tigers would finish a dazzling 29-3. And a Stewartville program brimming with so much youthful talent had left the impression that it was just getting started.
Complete box score: https://www.mshsl.org/sites/default/files/2023-03/GBB%202023%20AAA%20champ%20Stew%20BSM.pdf