Panthers pull upset
Shea Heidlebaugh couldn’t seem to miss against No. 3 North Star in a non-district girls basketball game Tuesday at Charles Hanneman Gymnasium.
Heidlebaugh hit four 3-pointers in the first half and had 18 points before the break as the Panthers (9-9) led by seven. The sophomore guard stretched the advantage to 29-23 on a free-throw early in the third quarter, but suffered a game-ending injury two minutes later when one of her ankles gave out on a chilling, awkward landing.
North Star took advantage and went on a 10-0 run early in the fourth quarter to take a six-point lead. Rugby responded with a 12-3 run and dealt the Bearcats their first loss of the season.
“It felt so good to finally finish one because the last couple games we’ve been having troubles,” RHS junior guard Darby Deckert said. “We’ve been ahead and then we’ve fallen behind and we’ve just not been able to finish it. And we did it for Shea because we knew as soon as she went down someone needed to step up and I feel like all the players on the floor really did. They kept their head and they just stayed in it.”
North Star (17-1) was without senior star Allie Heisler, who slipped in what her coach described as a freak accident on Saturday. The forward, who averages 20 points per game, received stitches for a knee that was sliced after she fell while walking to her car.
Junior Sarah Hagler scored a game-high 21 for the visitors, and also got 16 rebounds. But Rugby played strong defense on 6-foot-3 freshman Macey Kvilvang, who finished with just four points.
“The other girls didn’t step up a lot and that was the big difference tonight,” NS coach Sherri Miller said. “I have three young gals out there. I have an eighth-grader and two freshmen, so it was learning.”
Heidlebaugh and Deckert scored all 28 of Rugby’s first-half points and the Panthers scored only five in the third quarter. Junior forward Jacie Lovcik was the third Panther to score with three minutes remaining in the third. Lovcik connected again with 11 seconds left in the frame as the shot clock expired. North Star’s big run to start the fourth was capped by back-to-back 3-pointers from eighth-grader Stephanie Miller and senior Janae Larson.
The momentum swung back to RHS with a transition basket from junior ReAnn Christianson and a 3-pointer from Allie Volk. Sophomore guard Ashley Schmaltz checked in for the first time late in the fourth quarter and almost instantly drilled a jumper to give RHS a 42-41 lead with 2:16 remaining. Deckert extended the advantage with four points on two gritty drives and Schmaltz hit a free-throw in the final minute.
“Those other guys recognized that someone goes down and they stepped up,” RHS coach Jen Brossart said. “Alli Volk hit a big shot. Ashley Schmaltz hit a big shot. She drove to the hole, she did what she had to do. I can’t say enough about ReAnn Christianson in her first start. She did a great job. She held Kvilvang.”
Christianson secured timely rebounds and scored her four points in the fourth quarter, including a layup off a textbook post move around Kvilvang.
The severity of Heidlebaugh’s injury was undetermined following the game.
“She’s smiling and she’s enjoying this win just as much as any of ’em right now,” Brossart said. “but we’ll see what happens. That’s part of sports. They obviously had one of their (best) players down too.”
Heidlebaugh led RHS with 19 points and Deckert added 14. The Panthers closed the regular season Friday at No. 6 Rolla (16-1).
“I told these girls to use these two games as kind of a lifter for next week,” Brossart said, “and just compete. That’s all I asked them to do is compete and give yourself a chance at the end to win it. And I think they did that. They proved it tonight and I think you can hear them in (the locker room). They’re totally ecstatic.”
The No. 4 seed Panthers host the District 11 tournament and play No. 5 Sawyer in the first round on Feb. 28.
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