Michaela Neuzil blocks the path of Jessie Filzen during Lions’ section championship victory over Bethlehem Academy. In second line of defense is Addison Cross.
Michaela Neuzil blocks the path of Jessie Filzen during Lions’ section championship victory over Bethlehem Academy. In second line of defense is Addison Cross.
You could say the girls from Spring Grove were on a mission last Thursday. It was the fifth time in the program's history that a team has reached the section championship game. In 1995, 1997, 2009 and 2011 the Lions exited post-season play just one step short of the state tournament. This year, they were not to be denied.

In the section finals, Spring Grove defeated Bethlehem Academy, 69-64 earning their first-ever trip to the state tourney. Next up will be a state quarterfinals game versus Warren-Alvarado-Oslo High School.

In what may have been the most tightly officiated game of the year for the Lions (if not for the Cardinals), Spring Grove's two leading scorers as well as the top shooter for Bethlehem Academy found themselves in foul trouble. Players wore astonished looks as whistles shrieked.

With Lion point-guard Taylor Elton sidelined with three fouls during the final 3:12 minutes of the first half, Bethlehem Academy trimmed a five-point deficit down to two at halftime (32-30).

All-time Spring Grove girls leading scorer, Richell Mehus, drew her second and third fouls during that stretch and would eventually sit out 8 minutes and 46 seconds, mostly in the second half.

Both athletes, the KFIL-Radio Lion Co-Players of the Game, still put up outstanding numbers. Mehus poured in a game-high 28 points along with 7 rebounds, 2 assists and 3 steals.

Elton scored 15 of her 19 points during a second-half Spring Grove resurgence along with 4 rebounds, 7 assists and 3 steals.

For the Cardinals, point-guard Jessie Mathews was spectacular. Despite sitting out over seven and a half minutes, the 5-foot-7 junior scored 27 points, had 8 rebounds and passed out a game-high 9 assists.

The fast-breaking, 3-point sharpshooter engineered an 8-point run coming out of halftime that gave the Cardinals a 38-32 lead.

Then after drawing her fourth foul, Mathews was on the sideline while Spring Grove regained the lead with 10 unanswered points - a lead the Lions would not relinquish.

The Lions came back on the strength of some sharp shooting from outside, hitting four treys without a miss. The scoring surge eventually built a nine-point advantage.

With 3:40 left to play, Spring Grove switched to a delay game, forcing BA to foul. The Cardinals attempted to trade free-throw opportunities for treys, but were only able to cut the lead from 6 points to 5. Spring Grove stepped to the line with confidence, hitting 9 of 12 free throws in the final 2:41.

In addition to the big numbers from Mehus and Elton, there were significant Lion contributions all around. Sophomore post Nicole Ellingson, giving up a couple of inches to both 5-foot-10 junior Taylor Schwab and 5-foot-10 senior Maria Palmer, fought for 9 rebounds and scored 6 points.

Between two key Michaela Neuzil back-to-back steals, the 5-foot-9 center stepped outside to bury a key three-ball during the Lions' game-turning surge. The senior received the KFIL Game Ball Award.

Nikki Hansen (4 points) joined Elton with more assists than turnovers, corralled 4 rebounds and in the final couple of minutes forced a Cardinal turnover and hit both ends of a 1-and-1 free-throw trip.

Addison Cross (2 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists) and Randi Mehus (5 points, 2 rebounds, 3 steals) came through with consistent solid play while Spring Grove was adjusting to life with Richell Mehus and Elton in foul trouble. Cross also hit two late clutch free throws.

Every Lion seeing action put the ball into the net including two points from Cheyenne Moen. She also earned hustle points for taking the Lions' only charge of the game, resulting in a critical third foul on Matthews.

With 18 points, center Palmer was the other half of the Cardinal scoring show, also grabbing a game-high 10 rebounds. She was the lone senior to see action for Bethlehem Academy.

As the final minutes ticked down, a huge contingent of Spring Grove fans rose to their feet, cheers reverberating through the auditorium.

The roar quieted each time the Lions went to the charity stripe (four times in the last 43 seconds), then resumed louder than ever.

Spectators stayed for the medal ceremony as trophies were presented. Throngs of fans then came down to the sideline (not allowed on the court) for hugs over the rope separating the team from the fans.

The TV, radio and print media were standing by for player interviews at the end of court, but had to wait a while as the Lions were still being hugged and congratulated by the fans.

A police escort and a honking caravan of private joined the Lion team bus at the edge of town vehicles and led the ladies back to school about 10:40 p.m. The last state-tournament celebration of the evening ensued outside the school doorway.

On to state!

Spring Grove (27-3) will play Warren-Alvarado-Oslo (26-4) from Section 8A in the fourth state quarterfinal game of the day at Williams Arena on the University of Minnesota campus at 5 p.m. on Thursday, March 15.



Sub-section 1A East Girls Basketball 2012

PLAY-IN GAMES

#8 Mabel-Canton 38, #9 Schaeffer 34

#10 FC 47, #7 Hope Lutheran 31

QUARTERFINALS

#1 Spring Grove 73, Mabel-Canton 20

#5 Houston 51, #4 Lanesboro 35

#2 L-O 49, Fillmore Central 47

#3 R-P 62, #6 Grand Meadow 46

SEMI-FINALS

Spring Grove 62, Houston 18

R-P 62, LeRoy-Ostrander 44

FINALS

Spring Grove 67, Rushford-Peterson 35

Section Championship

East champ vs. West champ

Spring Grove 69, Bethlehem Academy 64