Josh Berhow photo: This story appeared in the March 9, 2012, edition of the Faribault Daily News.
- This piece won third place game story (dailies under 20,000) at the 2012 AP Sports Awards.
By JOSH BERHOW
ROCHESTER – Maria Palmer, Jessie Mathews and Taryn Ashley locked hands and walked to midcourt.
The Bethlehem Academy trio moved so slowly, so solemnly, that it seemed as if they were afraid their steps would crack the hardwood.
They accepted their Section 1A Tournament runner-up trophy together – without smiles – and barely displayed the Cardinals’ newest hardware to the crowd.
There was no solace in second place.
“We’re kind of perfectionists, we’re never truly satisfied,” said Ashley, minutes after Spring Grove beat the Cardinals 69-64 in the section title game in the Mayo Civic Center Arena on Thursday. “It was a step up from last year, but it was a heartbreaker. We were five points away. … It kind of hurts.”
BA ends its season 20-10 and suffered its first loss since Jan. 24. The Lions (27-3), the fifth-ranked team in Class A, move on to the Class A Tournament at Williams Arena next week.
In a game that displayed the section’s top-two players in Mathews and Lions senior Richell Mehus, Thursday’s 1A state berth would ultimately be decided with both players on the bench.
Mathews got hot late in the first half when she scored three points in the final 40 seconds to cut the Lions’ lead to 32-30 at the break, and the Cardinals finally took the lead for the first time early in the second half. Palmer scored four points and Mathews and Taylor Schwab each scored two to start the half on an 8-0 run as BA grabbed its biggest lead of the game, 38-32, with 16:10 left. But four seconds later everything changed.
Mathews picked up her fourth foul and headed to the bench with 16:06 to play and the Cardinals leading by six, and just 32 seconds later Mehus, shortly after scoring her 24th point of the game and cutting BA’s lead to four, picked up her fourth foul and exited.
“When we started the second half I really thought we had settled in,” said BA coach Tammy Filzen. “When Jessie picked up her fourth, then we were battling.”
Thirty-seven combined points between prize fighters Mathews and Mehus were confined to the bench as the two watched anxiously to see who would step up.
Lions senior Taylor Elton did.
Elton scored eight of Spring Grove’s next 11 and forced BA to call a timeout down 45-40. Michaela Neuzil hit a 3-pointer coming out of the timeout to push the Lions’ lead to eight, which forced Filzen to put Mathews back in with 10:59 to play.
“What ultimately decided the game was their depth was a little better than our depth,” Filzen said. “There’s no question – their kids that needed to step up stepped up.”
Mathews scored 14 points in the final 11 minutes and twice hit 3-pointers to cut the lead to four, but BA had a couple of costly turnovers down the stretch and the Lions made enough of their late free throws to hold on.
“I think we did all we could,” Mathews said. “We put our effort into it until the end and there wasn’t a time where we weren’t giving it our all. It sucks to be on the losing end, but we did everything we could. I’m proud of our team.”
Mathews finished with 27 points. Mehus had 28, 22 of which came in the first half when she made three 3-pointers and converted three three-point plays.
Palmer finished with 18 points and was 8 of 12 from the field. In Palmer’s last two career games she combined for 34 points and shot 75 percent from the floor.
“I just gave it my all because I’m never going to play again,” Palmer said. “For me this is it. I’m done.”
Palmer and Maddie Brown, who has been out with an injury, are the only players graduating from the Cardinals. Optimism for next year is already building.
“We got a taste of it,” Filzen said. “Hopefully we can get back here next year.”