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‘Silent assassin’ lifts RHS

By Staff | Feb 28, 2014

Lori Gronvold/PCT Rugby High School junior guard McKenzie Johnson boxes out in the Panthers’ 64-62 upset of No. 6 Rolla on Feb. 21. Johnson hit five 3-pointers and scored 20 points in the win.

ROLLA – McKenzie Johnson had a feeling in warmups that things might go her way against No. 6 Rolla.

The inkling was spot on, like her jumper.

Johnson drilled five 3-pointers in the second half to lead the Rugby High School girls basketball team to a second straight upset over a ranked team in the final two games of the regular season. RHS beat the Bulldogs 64-62 on Feb. 21, three nights after knocking off No. 3 North Star.

“It’s just been one of our best weeks,” Johnson said. “We’ve played pretty good, altogether, and even in practice. Hopefully, it’ll help us in the postseason and to win districts.”

Johnson was one of four Panthers with multiple 3-pointers as they connected on a total of 12. They did it without leading scorer Shea Heidlebaugh, who suffered an ankle injury early in the third quarter against North Star.

Lori Gronvold/PCT Rugby High School junior guard Ashley Schmaltz plays defense in the Panthers’ 64-62 upset of No. 6 Rolla on Feb. 21.

Nearly every member of the team elevated her game in the final week. Seldom-used Ashley Schmaltz quickly hit a pair of triples in the first half. Senior guard Allison Volk made three 3s and junior ReAnn Christianson pulled down critical rebounds in just her second start.

Rolla lost the night before to Lakota, and star player Alli Vandal was slow to find her groove after suffering an injury less than 24 hours earlier. Vandal led all scorers with 23 points, but didn’t assert herself until late. She scored 14 points in the fourth quarter, and coach Patrick Wilkes described her as playing at about 75 percent.

“She played most of the game, so we’re not gonna use that as an excuse,” Wilkes said. “She’s a heck of a player. She’ll step up in a big spot and as the game wore she tried to take a little more on her shoulders.”

RHS junior Darby Deckert hit four consecutive free throws in the final minute to preserve the lead. Vandal scored with 15 seconds left to cut the deficit to three. Deckert hit a pair of free throws, and Vandal connected on a 3-pointer with five seconds left for the final points of the game.

Johnson gave the Panthers a cushion throughout the fourth quarter beginning with a 3-pointer in the first 15 seconds. She extended the lead to 57-46 on her final 3-pointer with 6:14 remaining. Johnson even drove the lane to draw a foul late in the shot clock and hit a free throw with less than two minutes left.

“She’s one of what we call those ‘silent assassins,’ ” Brossart said. “We know what she’s capable of doing and if she hits a couple like that it seems to pick up her whole game – her defense, her offense. She starts to see the floor better. It perks her up a little bit. She needed this game more than anybody and I think this is a great catalyst for her as well.”

Brossart was all smiles as the team prepared for the ride back to Rugby. The win capped a signature week for the fiery coach’s program.

“It’s been pretty relaxing, actually,” she said. “I think I’ve probably been the most relaxed as a coach I’ve been in all the years I’ve coached, because you can see these girls working hard in practice. You can see the potential and the way things are starting to come along. They’re starting to trust each other and work together as a team.”

The Panthers play in the second round of the District 11 tournament today at RHS.

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