Sophomore Samantha Bratland scores underneath the basket during a first-half rally in the girls’ SEC showdown victory over Lyle/Pacelli.SGH/Jon Speltz
Sophomore Samantha Bratland scores underneath the basket during a first-half rally in the girls’ SEC showdown victory over Lyle/Pacelli.

SGH/Jon Speltz
The Spring Grove girls remained undefeated in Southeast Conference play by turning back visiting state-ranked Lyle/Pacelli in the highly anticipated Jan. 18 weekend rematch between the league's top two teams.

The previous Monday, the Lions had outlasted visiting Class AA La Crescent before the Tuesday trip to Winona where the girls had thrashed Hope Lutheran, their closest competitor in the SEC East.

Spring Grove vs. La Crescent

After watching a 17-point first half lead dissipate, the Lions relied on some clutch free throws to hold off the Lancers 69-63 on Jan. 14.

Senior guard Randi Mehus scored a career-high 25 points while hitting 14 of 19 free throws, the most attempted and made by one Spring Grove girl in one game in the 13 years for which single-game records survive.

She capped off her birthday and the win by netting 7 of 8 critical free throws in the final half minute of the six-point victory.

In a bizarre play, Mehus rebounded her lone late miss. The other Lions had been pulled off the free throw lane. With five seconds to go, she ripped the rebound away from the four Lancers on the lane.

Spring Grove's 55-rebound total was the most in five years with all nine Lions grabbing boards.

Addison Cross had a 13-point, 16-rebound double-double. Nicki Ellingson had a 15-point, 10-rebound double-double. Mehus matched a career-best 9 rebounds, and Nikki Hansen had a career-high 8 boards.

Spring Grove took a commanding 41-24 lead into halftime, but it appeared to be a different La Crescent team thereafter.

After being outrebounded 32-16 in the first half, the Lancers were much more successful in the second period (SG 22 rebounds, La Crescent 21).

That wasn't the only difference. After shooting 29% during the first half, the Lancers hit a hot 47% in the second half including 5 of 6 from three-point range. Overall, La Crescent out-shot Spring Grove 37% to 31%.

Lancer 5-11 junior guard Katie Waller sat out part of the first half in foul trouble, but came back to score 12 of her 14 points and grab 10 of her 11 rebounds in the second period. Junior guard Jen Michalke led Lancer scoring with 23 points along with 4 assists.

It was a Waller trey that finally pulled La Crescent even at 56-all with five minutes to play. Sixteen seconds later, Cross nailed a triple to put Spring Grove back ahead for good. A minute later with the same 59-56 lead, Spring Grove went into a slowdown offense against a slower Lancer defense, intending to put the game away at the free throw line.

The Lions hit only one of their next 4 free throws, but then hit 7 of 10 during the final minute. Meanwhile, the Lancers cooled off, hitting only 2 of their final 8 shots from the field.

The Lancers' great 7-for-13 three-point shooting (54%) and the Lions' weak 3 for 17 (18%) from beyond the arc helped provide La Crescent a 10-point advantage from the field.

But Spring Grove hit 22 of 38 free throws for a 16-point advantage at the foul line. La Crescent wound up 6 for 13 from the charity stripe.

For Spring Grove, Julianna Sand added 6 points with 4 each from Aly Folz and Samantha Bratland and two points from Hansen. Hansen had 3 assists with no turnovers while Folz passed out another 3 assists with only one turnover.

Both teams took care of the ball well, with 14 Lion turnovers and 13 for the Lancers.

Spring Grove improved to 9-6 while Class AA La Crescent dropped to 2-10. Having won the last four games, the Lions have now evened the series with the Lancers to 12 wins each.

La Crescent won an exciting B-team game 39-37.

Spring Grove at Hope Lutheran

Tuesday brought another road trip. With a 30-point (59-29) win at Hope Lutheran, the Spring Grove girls finished the first round of conference play having swept the other nine members.

The Lions erased an 11-6 deficit with an 11-point run and put the game away with an 18-0 run shortly after halftime. Spring Grove's defense was part of that second-half spurt, forcing 13 turnovers as the Patriots suffered through 16 straight scoreless possessions.

Mehus led the Lions with 20 points while Dakota Ellinghuysen put in 16 for Hope.

Hope's junior playmaker had little help as her teammates added only 13 points on the night. Only four Patriots scored, while nine Lions hit the net, including Cross with 12 points and Ellingson with 10.

Spring Grove reserves outscored their Patriot counterparts 12-0. Sophomore center Kailee Bjerke had career highs with 6 points and 8 rebounds, contributing "a nice performance," head coach Russell Larson later noted.

Larson (speaking to KFIL radio) said that his reserves have been developing on both ends of the court.

Even though Bratland contributed 6 rebounds and Ellingson another 5, Hope led in rebounding 37-30. Ellinghuysen completed her double-double with a game-high 11 boards while 6-foot, 1-inch while Patriot senior center Maddy Tucker came down with 11.

Mehus hit 4 of 6 shots from beyond the three-point arc as Spring Grove shot a good 38% from trey territory (6 for 16) while achieving only 29% from closer in (14 for 49).

The Lions also shot a good 65% at the foul line, making more free throws (13 for 20) than they permitted the Patriots to attempt (5 for 9, 56%).

Spring Grove played with 14 assists and only 11 turnovers. Hansen and Folz each had 3 assists with only one turnover. Also with more assists than turnovers were Bratland (2), Mehus (1) and Elizabeth Johnson (1).

Completing Lion scoring were Hansen with 4 points, plus 2 points apiece from Johnson, Bratland and Sand along with one point from Folz.

On defense, 21 Lion steals led to 29 Patriot turnovers. Eight Lions were credited with thefts, again topped by Mehus with 5 while Hansen and Cross lifted 4 each.

The Patriots left at 11-4 overall and 5-4 in the SEC. Hope does not have a B-team

Spring Grove vs. Lyle/Pacelli

Spring Grove hosted the Athletics on Friday, who came into the contest ranked no. 19 in state polling. The result was a 71-60 victory for the home team.

Lyle/Pacelli had come within a point of ending Spring Grove's conference winning streak back in early December. That one-point Spring Grove road win had made it 57 straight for the Lions, and Friday's victory extended the streak to 64.

Both teams shot better from the field than they had in Austin, but once again the difference was fouls and free throws.

Fouls sent both of L/P's all-conference players to the sideline and sent the Lions to the foul line for 29 attempts. Sinking 21 of 29 (72%), Spring Grove made more free throws than the Athletics attempted (17). The Lions outscored L/P by 15 points at the foul line.

Mehus hit 8 of 11 shots including all 4 Spring Grove three-point buckets and went 6 for 9 from the foul line for a career-high 26 points - reaching the 20-point plateau for the third straight game.

Ellingson had a 17-point, 12-rebound double-double. Cross hit 9 of 12 free throws while adding 13 points and hustling for 7 rebounds.

Hansen (3 points) was the lone Lion with more assists (4) than turnovers (2). Bratland had 8 points and contributed 6 rebounds to the Lions' 35 to 29 edge on the boards. Folz and Sand rounded out the scoring with 2 points each.

Spring Grove shot well - 47% overall including 44% from three-point range (4 of 9). The Lions scored 23 points from the perimeter and also went inside with the dribble for 14 points and scored another 14 points with fast breaks.

L/P was competitive with 39% shooting from the field, but was doomed with only 35% from the foul line (6 for 17).

The Athletics won the turnover tussle 21-18.

Spring Grove trailed most of the first half, by as many as 9 points before scoring on 7 of 9 possessions to edge ahead 31-30 two minutes before halftime. A Mehus trey sent the Lions into the break with a 34-32 lead.

That momentum continued as Spring Grove opened the second half with an 11-2 run for a 45-34 lead. The Lions knocked down 5 of 6 free throws during that spurt while L/P went 2 for 6 from the line and 0 for 6 from the field. The Athletics never got closer than 7 points the rest of the way.

Before L/P was forced to foul late, the Lions had hit 8 of 10 FT in the second half. Spring Grove then hit 6 of 10 FT in the final five minutes.

The Athletics' two-time All-SEC guard, junior Ann Rysavy, fouled out with just under 8 minutes remaining, finishing with 11 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists.

The other all-conference guard, freshman Courtney Walter, was whistled for a disqualifying fifth foul with just over five minutes to go, finishing with 11 points.

Seventh-grader Brooke Walter led L/P scoring with 15 points while freshman Sarah Holtz added 12. Sophomore Madison Truckenmiller had 11 rebounds.

This was the first game of the second half of the SEC double round robin format.

Spring Grove improved to 11-6 and a perfect 10-0 in the SEC. The Athletics (12-2, 7-2 SEC), have lost only to Spring Grove. They remain in contention for the SEC West title this year and figure to be the favorite next year with no seniors on this season's roster. Their primary playing rotation Friday night consisted of three juniors, a sophomore, two freshmen and two seventh graders.

The short-handed Lion B-team (10-5) fell to L/P 38-35, ending a 45-game conference winning streak.

Up Next: On Jan. 22, the Lions hosted Glenville-Emmons. Friday the 25th features a trip to Grand Meadow.