The Magic girls basketball team capped their best week of the young season with a win over Sartell Tuesday night, but the week was highlighted by a victory over section rival Delano on Thursday and a close win over state-ranked Simley on Saturday.
Thursday night, Monticello played one of their more important games of the regular season, taking on the Delano Tigers in a game that had definite section seeding implications. With Delano expected to be one of Monticello’s top challengers in the section, a win Thursday would be helpful to the Magic securing the top seed when playoffs roll around in a few months.
The game didn’t get off to a great start for the Magic. With the Tigers’ offense running through Div. I post Alex Wittinger, Delano ran to a 14-6 start.
A three from Gabby Laimer, her second of the game, cut it to 14-9, but when Delano got another lay-up, the lead was back to 16-9.
It was then that the Magic defense seemed to wake up.
Monticello started forcing turnovers and missed shots, with each defensive stop seemingly leading to an open look on the offensive end of the court. Alyssa Lentner buried consecutive triples, Grace Sawatzke got a bucket, Emily Gruber hit back-to-back layups, and suddenly the Magic were up 21-16. The Magic would score 10 more points before allowing the Tigers back on the board, pushing the six-minute spurt to 22-0 and giving Monticello a 31-16 lead.
“We contested shots, we got rebounds, we got steals and we were pushing [the tempo],” said Coach Craig Geyen. “Our defense led to our offense.”
Even with strong defense, Geyen acknowledged you have to hit shots to make a 22-point run, and the Magic did just that. Monti hit six first-half threes, including three for Laimer.
“We don’t really run plays [for three-point shots],” said Sawatzke. “A lot of our plays are to get [the ball] into the posts. We’ve just had some good shooting nights, and we have some good shooters.”
Monticello was also aided by foul trouble to Wittinger, who was held scoreless for the last two-thirds of the half, after scoring 10 points in the opening minutes.
The star post, who had a coach from Marquette in the crowd watching, was back on the floor to start the second half and she made her presence felt early. Wittinger scored on consecutive possessions to pull Delano within 34-29.
But Lentner had the answer for Monticello, scoring seven straight points, capped by her third three of the game, to give Monticello a 41-29 lead.
From there, the Magic held serve, keeping the lead around eight to 10 points for much of the half. But the Magic also didn’t pull away, allowing the Tigers to hang around. So when Delano finally went on a run, they pulled close, with a bucket from Wittinger cutting the lead to 54-50.
This time it was Sawatzke that had the answer. The senior hit a pull-up jumper on the ensuing possession, and after the Magic got a stop, she came right back down and went to the rim. Her right-handed layup dropped, as the refs blew the whistle, handing Wittinger her fifth foul while also sending Sawatzke to the free throw line. The Monticello lead grew to 59-50, and without Wittinger, the Tigers didn’t have a comeback left in them. Monticello held on for a 71-59 final.
The game represented the most balanced offensive attack of the season for the Magic. Sawatzke and Lentner each finished with 21 points, with Lentner shooting a blistering 7 for 8 from the field, while Laimer added 15 points (including four three-pointers) and Gruber finished with 8 points.
“We have four kids who can fill it up on any given night,” said Geyen. “That’s huge.”
The Magic carried the momentum from the win into their Saturday showdown with Simley (No. 4 in Class AAA, according to Minnesota Basketball News) at the Minnesota Breakdown Tip-Off at Hopkins High School.
The Magic started strong and finished stronger, as they held off Simley for a 50-46 victory.
For just the second time this year, Monticello held an early lead. An early spurt from Sawatzke helped Monticello jump out to a 20-12 advantage in the first half.
“That was huge to finally get out of the gate with a lead,” said Geyen, who had seen the team fall behind in three of their first four games. “It was good for us to feel a little confidence.”
Simley, who is led by two posts over six feet tall, wasn’t ready to go away.
Over the next eight minutes, Simley locked down Monticello on defense, going on a 10-4 run to cut the lead to 24-22.
But the Magic got a big spark with seconds left in the first half, when Laimer found Gruber underneath for a layup, pushing the lead to 26-22 as the first-half buzzer sounded.
Simley’s momentum wasn’t completely quelled. They scored 9 of the opening 12 points in the second half, taking a 31-29 lead, their first since the opening minutes. As the teams traded baskets, the Simley lead would grow to four in the middle of the frame.
Again though, Sawatzke had an answer. The star guard scored three consecutive baskets, pushing Monticello back in front 39-38.
After a Simley free throw tied it up, it was once again Laimer’s turn to hit a big shot. The senior scorer had just two points with six minutes remaining, but when she caught the ball behind the three-point line in a tied game, she confidently stepped into, and buried, the shot.
“She’s willing to shoot [big shots], even when she’s maybe not hitting shots,” said Geyen. “She’s got confidence and we all have confidence in her.”
Sawatzke followed up Laimer’s three with a splash of her own from downtown, giving the Magic a four-point lead.
Simley would cut it to one in the final thirty seconds, but two free throws from Sawatzke pushed it to three, and when Simley came up empty on their next possession, a Gruber free throw pushed the lead to 50-46 and ended Simley’s chances.
“That’s a good team,” said Geyen. “That’s a big win on a big stage.”
Sawatzke added that these early season tests help the Magic in more ways then one.
“Playing games like that tests our ability and talent and helps us find our strengths and weaknesses,” said Sawatzke. “Winning games like that gives us confidence.”
The Magic found a lot of strengths on defense, where they held Creighton-bound Kylie Brown to 17 points and her 6’1” sophomore teammate Abby Kain to 10.
Offensively, the Magic were led by 26 points from Sawatzke. Gruber added 10 for the Magic, who also got great bench minutes from Melissa Schmidt (eight points).
“She came in, gave us a huge spark and was able to help us in key stretches,” said Geyen.
Tuesday night, Monticello ran their record to 4-2 as they clobbered Sartell, 71-34.
The Magic jumped out to a 38-20 lead at the half and they never looked back.
Gruber and Sawatzke led the Magic with 16 points apiece, while Laimer and Lentner each added 10 for Monticello.
After a hectic start to the schedule – the Magic have played twice as many games as a lot of their peers – Monticello gets a week of practice before returning to action Tuesday with a 7:30 p.m. game at Dassel-Cokato.
Contact Clay Sawatzke at [email protected]