Sauk Centre overcomes Ayoka Lee’s dominance as the Mainstreeters move on
Sauk Centre 67 Byron 61 Ayoka Lee is a handful. At 6'6, with a vastly improved skill set and a willingness to do the dirty work, the Byron center is force who challenges every opposing coach to come up with…
Sauk Centre 67 Byron 61
Ayoka Lee is a handful. At 6'6, with a vastly improved skill set and a willingness to do the dirty work, the Byron center is force who challenges every opposing coach to come up with new and creative ways to deal with her enormous presence in the paint. In the first half of Wednesday's state tournament encounter with Sauk Centre, Mainstreeters' coach Scott Bergman had no answers as Lee put up 15 points, pulled down 12 rebounds, and blocked 7 shots in 18 excellent minutes. That put the #1 AA team in the state in an unfamiliar position at halftime – Sauk Centre was down nine and wondering what to do next.
What they did after the break reminded us once again just how good this undefeated, perennial state championship contender really is. The Mainstreeters went on a 21-2 second-half run to not only get back in the game but eventually take it over in spite of Lee's brilliance. By night's end, it was Sauk Centre's Maesyn Thiesen, Kelsey Peschel and Tori Peschel who had put up the only stats that really counted: A 67-61 victory and a spot in the AA semifinals against Norwood-Young America.
Player of the Game
Maesyn Thiesen, Sauk Center – Mason has been among Minnesota's best point guards throughout her high school career, producing many memorable moments at the state tournament and for North Tartan. Her maturity, poise and exceptional skills were on full display during Sauk's second-half comeback on Wednesday as she led the Mainstreeters to the win. She finished with 24 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals and 2 blocks and will play at Minnesota Duluth in the fall.
Others who impressed
Ayoka Lee, Byron – We already mentioned Lee's first-half performance; her second half wasn't bad, either. In the end, the Kansas State commit finished with 26 points and 17 rebounds. She shot 11 of 17 from the field and 4 of 6 at the line. Her ability to disrupt plays on the defensive end is the stuff of legend. Offensively she has become a major contributor, as well. On this night, however, it wasn't quite enough. Lee is a class act who will no doubt have success in the Big 12.
Sauk Centre's sister act of Kelsey and Tori Peschel play such key roles for the Mainstreeters night after night. It was no different Wednesday night as Kelsey's speed and aggressiveness played a big part in Sauk's impressive second-half comeback. Tori's length was an invaluable asset once again. Kelsey finished with 18 points and six rebounds. She was 7 of 8 at the line. Tori had 13 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals. She also made 7 of 10 free throws when it counted.
Norwood-Young America 67 Minnehaha Academy 58
Good. Better. Best. That's the path long-time Norwood-Young America coach Gary Lembcke has had his team on over the past couple of seasons. Yes, they were good, but Lembcke decided they needed to get better if they were to challenge for a state championship. That's why he beefed up the Raiders' schedule and put his players on a bus to play some tough road games. That decision paid off handsomely Wednesday in their first game at the state tournament as the Raiders put together a solid performance from start to finish to oust Minnehaha Academy by a score of 67-58. Can they take that third step now? Can Bren Fox, Kali Grimm, Abby Mackenthun and company really be the best? We'll know by Saturday.
The first half of Wednesday's game was essentially a stalemate as the game seesawed back and forth. At the half it was 23-23. It took until the game's final five minutes, but the impact of Fox's size, veteran Abby Mackenthun's versatility, and senior Jayden Fritz's spunk impacted the game in a major way as Norwood-Young America slowly pulled away from their Minneapolis counterparts. The loss of power forward Avery New, who fouled out with six minutes remaining, was a major blow to the short-staffed RedHawks. After that, NYA went on a 10-0 run that led to a 67-58 victory.
“I thought we had it but we were slow and sloppy on defense at the end,” Minnehaha's talented sophomore guard Mia Curtis said in the post-game press conference. As usual, she was the RedHawk's leader with 23 points, 5 steals, 3 assists and 3 rebounds. It wasn't enough, as Minnehaha faded fast down the stretch. They looked dog-tired and got sloppy. It has been a long year for Minnehaha's starting five, a group of elite athletes that can match up with anyone. There just isn't any depth on this team and that fact was painfully obvious in Wedesday's waning moments.
Player of the Game
Abby Mackenthun, Norwood-Young America – For all the headlines garnered by 6'3 post Bren Fox and D-1 bound Kali Grimm, Abby Mackenthun is the engine that drives the Raiders. This was the fourth time we have seen Mackenthun live this season and on all four occasions she was the best player on the floor by some distance. The 5'10 junior is a scholarship-level player who comes up big in the big moments, including Wednesday when she had 21 points, 6 rebounds and 5 steals. She was also 11 of 13 at the line, no small contribution in a high-pressure game.