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Saints split the week, get back to .500 with win over Windom

Sean Ellertson
St. James Plaindealer

On Saturday afternoon inside the event center, the St. James girls basketball team found themselves down by six at the half, but a strong second half by St. Peter led the visiting Saints to a 65-44 win.

Trailing 12-7 early, the Saints rallied for a short 6-0 burst to take the 13-12. Taylor Sodeman scored the first seven points for St. James. Buckets from Jaelyn Haler, Chloe Mickelson, and Kelsey Grunewald got the hosts ahead.

St. Peter managed to rebound and took a 30-24 lead at halftime. 

After St. James got the first points of the second half to cut the lead to four, St. Peter's offense started to roll, outpacing the Saints 35-18 for the rest of the game.

St. James' defense did manage to limit senior star forward Morgan Kelly to just six points.

Mickelson led the Saints with 14 points. Sodeman finished with 13. Haler and Grunewald each finished with six. 

St. James was outrebounded 42-20 on the night and committed 29 turnovers to St. Peter's 25.

"Most of our turnovers were not against the press but in our halfcourt offense which we struggled with," said head coach Steve Witcraft. "We were right there against the favorite in our conference and had our chance to pull an upset."

On Monday night against Windom, the girls again found themselves down 30-24 heading into the break.

Delaney Smith's inside presence, as well as hot outside shooting, put the Eagles up 18-6 early on. St. James cut the lead to 18-13 on buckets from Grunewald, Sodeman, and Haler, but Windom countered with Smith, and threes from Jadyn Wormstadt and Allison Letcher to expand the lead to 26-13.

Once again, the Saints responded, this time with Maddie Brey hitting a three, a pair of Haler free throws, and baskets by Mickelson and Grunewald to cut the lead down to four.

Heading into the half down six, Witcraft rallied his troops for a second-half comeback.

"We've been in this exact spot before," said Witcraft to his team at halftime. "Now, we have to finish this."

Coming out of halftime, Witcraft upped the defensive pressure, extending to a full-court press, and making sure Smith—who had 15 first-half points—was accounted for on every possession.

"We had to make sure she was double and triple-teamed," said Witcraft. "I thought we did a really job good. I thought Kelsey and Maddie really stepped up. They didn't score much, but they didn't have to."

Using speedy guards like Ellie Becker, Mickelson, Addie Bowers, and Torri Mohwinkel took the Eagles out of their rhythm offensively, while the Saints' offense itself started to show signs of life.

Taylor Sodeman, much like in the opening minutes of the first half, came out firing, hitting three shots to keep the deficit at six.

Down by one with under 7:00 to play, Haler corralled an offensive rebound and converted the putback, giving the Saints their first lead of the night.

Sodeman added a triple to put the hosts up four. The breakout sophomore scored 14 of a game-high 22 in the second half.

"She just adds a dimension that we haven't had in a while. She's hard to match up [against] and I think when other teams try to match up they put a small girl on her and she goes inside but if they put a big girl on her she can just go by so it's a tough matchup. And she's a good shooter, a really good shooter. She played really well."

Up by four with under 3:00 remaining, Addie Bowers converted a big ane-one to push the lead to seven, Haler followed with two more free throws, and the Saints led by nine with just over two minutes remaining.

Letcher answered with five quick points cutting the lead to four with a minute left. Missed free throws by Grunewald and Sodeman kept the Eagles alive, as Gracie Bucher drilled a three with 16.5 left to cut the lead down to 53-50. 

Haler and Sodeman each connected on a free throw to finally salt the game away, and the Saints held on with a 55-52 win, snapping a three-game losing streak, and evening up their record at 3-3.

In addition to her 22 points, Sodeman hauled in ten rebounds. Haler finished with 13 points and nine rebounds. Grunewald added another six.

Addie Bowers had nine points off the bench to go along with three steals and three assists.

Despite her 15 first-half points, Smith was limited to just three points in the second half to finish with 18. Letcher also finished with 18.

The Saints will aim to get back over .500 in a Saturday night battle at New Ulm. St. James gets B.O.L.D. at home on Monday.