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Stewartville holds off Albert Lea to reach Section 1AAA championship game

Stewartville used an aggressive defense to force 22 turnovers and battled through foul trouble to post a 59-54 in the Section 1AAA girls basketball semifinals

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STEWARTVILLE — It wasn't as easy this time, but Stewartville got the job done.

Stewartville had beaten Albert Lea 74-50 early in the year, but with the season on the line Saturday, the rematch went down to the wire. No. 2 Stewartville made enough plays down the stretch to hold off No. 6 Albert Lea 59-54 in Section 1AAA semifinal girls basketball action.

Stewartville (19-8) will now face Austin in the section championship game at 8 p.m. Friday at Mayo Civic Arena.

“The group effort was huge tonight,” Stewartville coach Ryan Liffrig said. “We play a lot of players and each one did something positive tonight.”

Stewartville forced 22 turnovers but had to overcome foul trouble. Because of that, the Tigers relied on some reserves to come up big and several certainly did.

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Albert Lea had 15 of its turnovers in the first half and trailed by eight at the break. But it stayed in the game in the second half.

"Give credit to Stewartville,” Albert Lea coach Karol Hansen said. “They had a really aggressive, swarming defense and altered our shots. I just told the kids they had to keep taking their shots and they had to take care of the ball and believe that we could make things happen.”

Both Savannah Hedin (15 points and six rebounds) and Haylie Strum (14 points) had to miss time due to their foul situation for Stewartville.

“We kind of got our heads down a little bit, but we picked each other up and it worked out,” Strum said.

With Hedin on the bench in the second half, Strum scored five straight points to put Stewartville up 51-42 with 8 minutes left. Strum would foul out with 2:39 to play, but others stepped up for the host Tigers, especially in the second half.

“We have a deep bench and that’s helpful,” Strum said. “When we get tired our bench can pick us up.”

Resrves Jaci Rath, an eighth-grader, and junior Avery Spencer both provided a big lift off the bench. Rath scored nine points and Spencer had eight, and each player had six in the second half.

“It shows the depth of our team,” Liffrig said. “We had some girls come off the bench and step up and really saved the game when it was a struggle for some of our other players.”

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After Albert Lea cut the lead to 54-51, Spencer hit a big hoop on a drive to the basket to put the margin back up to 56-51 with a minute to play.

“The shot of the game for us was when Avery Spencer took that ball to the hoop,” Liffrig said. “That was giant for us.”

Nevaeh Wacholz hit a 3-pointer on Albert Lea's next possession to cut the margin to 56-54. But Hedin, a sophomore guard, went 3-for-4 at the line in the final 33 seconds to help preserve the victory. She also had a big offensive rebound after her one free-throw miss.

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Albert Lea (11-17) overcame 22 turnovers to stay in the game. It also overcame adversity during the regular season to reach the section semifinals. Albert Lea’s head coach quit a week before the season started. Then the new coach was dismissed during the season after being charged with criminal sexual conduct. Hansen, who was on the staff, was bumped up to the varsity position.

“One of the things I hope the girls learned during the season is to just believe in themselves and have confidence in what they’re doing,” Hansen said.

Stewartville 59, Albert Lea 54
ALBERT LEA (54)
Morgan Luhring 2 P; Annika Veldman 15 P, 11 R; Taya Jeffrey 15 P, 9 R; Jordan Juveland 4 P, 5 R; Kendall Kenis 13 P, 3 3-PT; Neveah Wacholz 5 P, 1 3-PT.
STEWARTVILLE (59)
Lauren Buckmeier 0 P, 2 R; Haylie Strum 14 P, 2 3-PT; Audrey Shindelar 3 P, 1 3-PT; Avery Spencer 8 P; Jayci Rath 9 P, 6 R, 1 3-PT; Savannah Hedin 15 P, 6 R; Keeley Steele 10 P, 1 3-PT; Hannah Martinson 0 P, 3 R.
Halftime: STEW 33, AL 25.
Free throws: AL 12-18, STEW 8-16. Field goals: AL 18-44, STEW 23-49.
Three-point goals: AL 4, STEW 5. Rebounds: AL 37, STEW 29. Turnovers: AL 22, STEW 11.

Guy N. Limbeck is a Rochester native who has been working at a daily newspaper since 1981. He has worked at the Post Bulletin since 1999. Readers can reach Guy at 507-285-7724 or glimbeck@postbulletin.com.
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