Spring Grove girls basketball captains #32 Nikki Hansen, #5 Randi Mehus and #12 Addison Cross hoist the 1A Sub-section trophy aloft as the Lion faithful roar approval at the March 2 nail-bitter championship game in Rochester. Photo by SGH/Jon Speltz
Spring Grove girls basketball captains #32 Nikki Hansen, #5 Randi Mehus and #12 Addison Cross hoist the 1A Sub-section trophy aloft as the Lion faithful roar approval at the March 2 nail-bitter championship game in Rochester. Photo by SGH/Jon Speltz
The Spring Grove girls basketball team claimed their fourth sub-section title in five years, thereby taking two more steps towards another state tourney appearance - first ousting Grand Meadow in the Sub-section 1A-East semi-finals before an overtime thriller over top seed Rushford-Peterson in the championship game. The girls (23-6) advance to this week's section championship game.

Sub-sect, semi-final: SG vs. GM

The Lions' second tournament game found second-seeded SG taking on third seed Grand Meadow at Mayo Civic Center in Rochester. The Lions prevailed, 63-41 in the Feb. 25 match.

Defense and rebounding were the keys for Spring Grove. The Lions' huge 24-backboard advantage (49 to 25) was their greatest rebounding margin of the season.

Spring Grove's full-court defense forced 8 of the Superlarks' 21 turnovers, and the Lions limited GM to 28% shooting from the field. Spring Grove shot only 33%, but with more rebounds and 5 fewer turnovers, the Lions put up 16 more shots than the Larks.

Each team hit 6 three-pointers. SG shot better from beyond the arc (40%) than they did closer in (31%).

GM scored three times with fast breaks but struggled all night to score against the Lion half-court defense.

Only twice did the Larks score in successive possessions. Scoring three straight times down the floor, GM sliced a 17-point deficit down to 10 with 8:10 left to play. But the Larks would miss their next seven shots and hit only 2 of their final 18 attempts.

In the final three and half minutes, Spring Grove hit 3 of 4 from the field and 9 of 10 free throws.

Overall, the Lions hit 13 of 21 free throws (62%) while GM went 9 for 17 (53%) Each team hit 6 three-pointers.

KFIL-radio Game Ball winner Addison Cross scored 23 points, a next-to-best-career total, and Nicki Ellingson had a career-high 17 rebounds. Samantha Bratland reeled in 7 rebounds, Randi Mehus 6, Aly Folz 5 and Nikki Hansen 4, In addition to her game-high 23 points, Cross rebounded 5 times and had a 3-to-1 assists-to-turnover ratio

Hansen, KFIL Lion Player of the Game, scored 6 of the Lions' first 7 points and finished with a career-high 14 points after scoring 5 of the teams' final 7.

Mehus added 9 points and was the assist leader with 4, Bratland scored 7 points, Ellingson 4, Julianna Sand 4 and Folz 2.

It took a little longer than in the team's two previous meetings, but the Lions again dismissed Grand Meadow by a comfortable margin. After trailing by 13 points, the Larks got back within eight at halftime, 27-19.

The Lions scored 11 of the first 13 points in the second half and later had an answer when the Superlarks' six-point mini-run produced a challenge.

Audra Durhman, GM Player of the Game, led the Larks with 16 points including 4 three-pointers. The senior guard pulled off the most dazzling play of the game, a swirling move at near full speed while splitting two Lion defenders for a fast-break basket.

The Superlarks ended their '12-13 campaign at 16-11, their first winning season in three years. SG leads the series 20 to 10 after winning the last 10 games including two earlier this season - a 16-point December decision at GM and a 25-point January meeting at Spring Grove.

Sub-section finals: SG vs. R-P

The Lions returned to Mayo for a sub-section championship rematch with top seed Rushford-Peterson on March 2. The Trojans rolled into the contest following a 65-33 drubbing of no. 4 LeRoy-Ostrander in the other semi-final, but Spring Grove prevailed in overtime, 65-62.

It was the Lions' third straight 1A-East basketball championship, their fourth in five years.

With two aggressively defending teams on the floor, the game became a whistle workout for officials. It was also a bruising contest for players, who frequently hit the floor.

Spring Grove won in spite of 35 turnovers lost to swarming R-P defenders. The Trojans (15-13) paid a price for their all-out defensive effort, committing 31 fouls and setting off the parade to the foul line. Once there, the Lions shot 44 free throws (sinking 30). R-P only scored half as many points from the line. They got 26 attempts.

Four Trojans fouled out. Two were disqualified in regulation time and two more in overtime.

Spring Grove defenders worked just as hard, holding their opponents to a 27% success rate from the field. That helped make up for the turnover discrepancy. R-P lost possession 22 times.

Three of the seven lead changes came during overtime. The first score came halfway into the four-minute extra period when Cross passed over the Trojan full-court pressure to Bratland who assisted on a Ellingson basket.

Senior guard Mariah Mueller put R-P ahead with a three-pointer, but Cross hit a pair of free throws to put SG back up by one.

After senior Amy Todd scored inside for R-P, the final lead change came as Cross banked in a jump shot with 25 seconds remaining. That critical overtime jumper was the senior point guard's only field goal of the game.

Cross finished with 14 points after hitting 12 of 16 free throws. She went to the foul line twice in the final eight seconds with a steal in between to deny the Trojans a decent chance at a winning shot. Cross again received the KFIL-radio Game Ball Award for her crunch-time heroics.

Ellingson was the KFIL selection for SG Player of the Game after posting a 15-point, 12-rebound double-double. The junior center sat out much of the first half after two early fouls, and after turning an ankle, played in pain at the end - grabbing three crucial defensive rebounds in overtime.

Spring Grove scoring was balanced with four Lions in double figures including Bratland with 14 points and Mehus with 13. Sand added 4 points, Hansen 3 and Folz 2.

Early fouls forced R-P to abandon the full-court pressure, but the Trojans' half-court trapping zone defense stymied SG much of the night. On the other end, the Trojans usually had to settle for long-range shots over the SG zone. They did manage 12 points with offensive rebounds.

R-P hit 7 three-pointers but still shot only 22% from beyond the arc. The Lions shot a much stronger 42%. But with all the SG turnovers and the Trojans' 19 offensive rebounds the Lions attempted only 38 official shots to the Trojans' 73, an amazing stat to overcome.

R-P point guard Kendra Crawford attracted the most attention from the SG defense, but Todd (the KFIL Player of the game for R-P) stepped up with a game-high 24 points and a team-best 10 rebounds plus 4 assists. Sierra McNamer hit 3 treys on the way to 16 points while two triples helped Mueller score 10 points.

SG led early 16-13 until a 9-point Trojan run set the stage for R-P to lead for about 26 of the 27 minutes remaining in regulation including a 33-30 at halftime score.

A jump shot by Sand put the Lions ahead 38-37 for about 15 seconds. SG did not edge ahead again until two Ellingson free throws put SG up 53-52. That came during an 8-point Lion run that flipped a four-point deficit into a four-point lead (56-52) with 41 seconds to go.

The late Lion surge looked like it might be enough to snatch the game out of the fire, especially when two Bratland free throws appeared to give SG a four-point lead with 0:29 on the clock.

But the last charity shot was nullified by a lane violation making it a one-possession game. Crawford then drilled a three-ball with 18 seconds to play, and the teams went into overtime tied at 57.

Despite the Trojans' productive work on the offensive glass, the Lions managed a slight 39 to 35 overall rebounding advantage. In addition to Ellingson's dozen boards, Mehus rebounded 7 times and Cross 6 with Folz and Bratland collecting 5 each.

Single-game statistics only go back 13 years, and no game was found with as many as 44 attempted free throws. It has been 140 games (2009) since the girls had as many as 35 turnovers.

The Lion win avenged a 52-41 setback against R-P in December. The Lions and Trojans have been meeting every year during the holidays and frequently again in the playoffs.

It was the third time in four years that the two teams had met in the sub-section championship game. SG has won two of those three including last year's blowout.

In the last seven seasons, the Lion girls have won four sub-section crowns and R-P three. The Trojans advanced to state in both 2007 and 2008 while the Lions are coming off their first state-tourney trip in 2012.