At times it looked more like a free-throw shooting contest than a District semi-final basketball game, but the Storm Lake St. Mary's girls survived a nail-biting foulfest with Alta Monday night to move on in the postseason, 57-50.
In the process, they set a new school record with 16 season wins.
Four players fouled out Monday as the two teams combined for 72 trips to the charity line - the most St. Mary's Coach Ryan Berg has seen this season.
Although St. Mary's had beaten Alta twice during the regular season, the Cyclones were tough on their home floor. St. Mary's raced out to a five-point lead to start the game and pulled away to a 21-7 first quarter edge. Alta slowly fought back into the contest with a couple of St. Mary's starters on the bench in foul situations, pulling to within 30-22 at the half and holding the Panthers scoreless for four-and-a-half-minutes of the third. Alta took it's first lead 36-35 midway through the second half, and late in the game it was tied at 48, but a nine-point Panther run and a number of clutch free throws down the stretch put the contest away.
Chilly free-throw shooting doomed Alta, as they were just 13 of 38, compared to 22 of 34 for St. Mary's.
Abby Richardson hit for 15 points, as did Jess Lussman - her new varsity career mark, with five assists. Senior Cassie Weaver had seven points, three steals and five rebounds. Maggie Lange and Emily Lenhart each added six points, and Lange crashed the boards for seven rebounds.
Alta was again paced by standout athletes Jahde Hammer with 18 and Dee Hinkeldey with 15. Jessie Bibler added eight points.
"We started out really strong. We primarily were able to pass the ball well, find the open shots, and got some baskets beating Alta downcourt in the transition game," Berg said. "Once we got in foul trouble, it was a different story. We had to go to a zone defense to protect our players in foul trouble, and that put us in a tough spot."
St. Mary's has struggled from the free-throw line all year, but when it mattered most, several players calmly canned their charity shots at key moments. "We won it basically at the line. I have to be honest - Alta did probably outplay us overall, and we were fortunate to have the chance to come through with the free throws."
Alta ends its season at 12-10.
St. Mary's, at 16-6, moves on to play Sac City Saturday night,. Sac crushed Schaller-Crestland 69-27 in their District semifinal Monday night at Sac City. The game starts at 7 p.m. in Alta. "We split with Sac City this season, and they got us at Homecoming," Berg said. "They are a balanced, tough team to defend, with a good post player, a couple of girls who can knock down three-pointers, and enough speed to dribble-penetrate."
Sac City Coach Mike Fischer is looking forward to a rematch with St. Mary's. "I think it is going to be a defensive battle and should be a balanced ballgame."