Saints earn two wins at home, fall on the road at Fairmont

Sean Ellertson
St. James Plaindealer

After a 17-day layoff due to COVID-19 quarantines, the St. James Area girls basketball team jumped back into action on Thursday night against St. Clair and used 17 points from both Jaelyn Haler and Taylor Sodeman to fend off the Cyclones 69-63.

The teams went into halftime knotted up at 36. In the second half, the Saints found their legs, using an 18-2 run to take a 54-38 advantage.

"I thought in the second half we came out in a triangle and two and that really bothered them," said head coach Steve Witcraft. "That's something we worked on for the playoffs where we can use it if we see a team with two threats. I thought Kelsey [Grunewald], Torri [Mohwinkel], Addie [Bowers], and Jaelyn did a great job."

The Saints kept their foot on the pedal through the middle portion of the period, as Bowers, Chloe Mickelson, and Grunewald kept St. Clair at bay heading into the final six minutes.

Trailing by 13, the Cyclones ratcheted up the defensive pressure and countered with a 12-0 run, punctuated by an and-one by Kayli Hinze and a triple from Emily Olson to cut the lead to 59-58.

"We took care of the ball when we were going on our 18-2 run," said Witcraft. "All of a sudden, they knew their backs were against the wall and they were scrambling and we took some bad shots, we turned the ball over, and they got some layups and some confidence, then all of a sudden we had a close game."

In the closing minutes, the Saints had plenty of opportunities to put the game away from the free-throw line, but both Sodeman and Haler—a usually reliable free throw shooter—came up empty on multiple trips, keeping St. Clair within striking distance.

"I think that's where the layoff really hurt us," said Witcraft.  "That's just not getting enough repetition."

In addition to their 17 points apiece, Haler hauled in 16 rebounds and Sodeman had 11. 

Mickelson chipped in 11. Grunewald scored seven. Bowers and Maddie Brey had ten and seven off the bench, respectively. Torri Mohwinkel finished with four assists.

On Saturday against Blue Earth, Bowers poured in a career-high 27 points off the bench in a 71-49 blowout win over Blue Earth Area.

Despite the 21-point win, it was a slow start for the Saints in the opening minutes. The Saints didn't hit a field goal until the 12:56 marker of the opening half on a bucket by Bowers.

From that opening bucket, the floodgates opened for the host Saints.

Bowers connected on a three and a layup, and the Saints found themselves up 9-4 on the strength of seven early points from Bowers. 

"She is really aggressive offensively and she's so athletic so we put that 1-3-1 in so that she could release and [she] got some really easy looks but the key to that was that girls were looking for her."

 The sophomore stayed hot, scoring 12 of the Saints' first 19 points.

Contributions from Grunewald, Sodeman, and Haler kept the Saints in command, 36-24, heading into halftime.

In the second half, the closest the Bucs could get was seven after a three from McKenna Dutton cut the Saints' advantage to 41-34.

From then on, St. James kept the pressure on, and coasted to its largest win of the season, and second in-conference win of the year for the first time since the '06-'07 season.

St. James racked up the assists (24) and limited turnovers (11). Brey led the Saints with six assists. Along with her 27 points, Bowers finished with seven rebounds and four assists. Haler scored 12, hauled in nine rebounds, and had three assists. Grunewald added 12 points. Sodeman had 11 and six boards.  Mickelson had eight points and a pair of assists.

On Tuesday at Fairmont, the Saints were once again held well below their season scoring average by the defensive-minded Cards, falling 59-39.

Sodeman scored 16 to lead the Saints. Haler notched nine and Bowers finished with seven.

St. James shot just 8/21 from the foul stripe.

The Saints play on Friday at Pipestone in a critical section game.