Worthington gets better of Saints on senior night

Sean Ellertson
St. James Plaindealer

After posting a 51-43 win over Blue Earth Area on Thursday, the St. James girls basketball team paid tribute to its seniors Friday night inside the Event Center, but the Trojans of Worthington put a damper on the festivities, knocking off the Saints 59-45.

Prior to the opening jump, head coach Steve Witcraft acknowledged his senior class for the work they had put in over the previous four years and credited the group for starting to reverse the trend of St. James girls basketball.

The senior class of Ellie Becker, Maddie Brey, Kelsey Grunewald, Chloe Mickelson, and Torri Mohwinkel are the main cogs in the Saints being able to knock-off New Ulm for the first time in almost a decade, and snap a 57-game conference losing streak. 

"They're a great bunch of kids, they've worked hard," said head coach Steve Witcraft. "They've probably wanted to win these games more than anybody I could imagine. This summer with COVID, they were all in the gym. I never had to call someone and tell them we needed them at practice. They were always there, always early and they never complained. They really finally bought into the fact that we have some talent here."

Once play finally tipped off, both teams came out with a run-and-gun type pace, but it was the Trojans who jumped out to a 16-5 behind five points from both Stephanie Bauman and Tarren Spartz.

"I think our team likes that type of pace," said Witcraft. "We were one player down with Kelsey [Grunewald] being hurt, but I thought Lunden [Swanson] did a really nice job in her place and got some really good looks."

Swanson was aggressive looking for her shot had a pair of buckets late in the first half to keep St. James close heading into the break.

Trailing 20-11 midway through the opening half, a 12-4 run by the Saints trimmed the lead down to 24-23 after a three from Jaelyn Haler.

Worthington managed to right the ship and take a 33-29 lead into the break on the strength of ten points from Spartz and nine from Bauman, who frustrated Saints ball-handlers with quick hands and steals all night. 

Early in the second half, Olivia Hayenga provided a spark, notching seven quick points to extend the lead back up to 14. Another bucket by Bauman pushed the lead to 46-30, forcing Witcraft to call a timeout and reset. 

"It was a fast-paced game and I think we're okay with that but we really struggled with their bigs inside," said Witcraft.

Despite best efforts, the Saints couldn't cut the lead down to single digits until the 4:00 mark on a Chloe Mickelson basket, but it was too little too late for a Saints comeback bid.

Mickelson and Becker each scored eight for St. James. Taylor Sodeman scored all seven of her points in the opening half.

The Saints senior class has seen the lowest of the low, going from 0-25 in 2016-2017 as eighth-graders, to seeing a program on the upswing.

"We all have been playing together since we were younger, and we wanted to stick it out to see how far we could go," said Mohwinkel.

"I was looking forward my senior year, like right now," said Mickelson "As a seventh-grade team we were really good so I figured that once we were all together again and our skills built up we would be pretty good."

Brey had been away for basketball the past two years, but with the urging of her senior classmates, made the return to the hardwood this fall.

On Saturday in Litchfield, the Saints' tired legs showed, falling 56-35 in the regular-season finale.