January 29, 2004 at 2:18 p.m.
Chisago Lakes 43
Last Tuesday, the top two teams in the conference, at least according to the standings, locked horns in one of the most anticipated games of the season. On one side, St. Michael-Albertville, undefeated in conference play and rated in state. On the other side, Chisago Lakes, 6-1 in conference and winners of four straight going in.
However, all of the hype, all of the air in the balloon quickly deflated once the Wildcats took the floor. Noticeably absent for Chisago was Kari Schmidt, the ‘Cats leading scorer, out because of illness. The Wildcats never recovered.
Early on, junior guard Katie Reed did her best to fill the void, striking for seven points in the first quarter. Senior Abby Bjorkman helped, chipping in with four, helping Chisago to a one point lead.
“The girls missed Kari but I think they were looking forward to the challenge,” said Ed Wachutka, Chisago Lakes girls basketball head coach. “They really played excellent in the beginning. The intensity was good. We attacked the basket, but as the game went on, we just wore down. The game was being played at such a fast pace that we couldn’t stay with them. You could really see that in the second when things began to change.”
Change is right. The Knights opened up the game with a barrage of shots, hitting eight field goals in the quarter compared to the Wildcats one. That lone Chisago basket came from Sarah Ploog, accounting for two of the four Wildcat points in the second. By outscoring the ‘Cats 19-4, St. Michael turned a one point deficit into a 14 point lead at the half, 31-17.
“We starting missing some shots and we started turning the ball over,” remarked Wachutka. “St. Michael also started to control the offensive boards. There were times where they shot until they made it.”
That’s all it was, one bad quarter. The rest of the way, the Wildcats played the Knights even. Unfortunately one bad quarter was all it took.
In the second half, the Knights pushed their lead to 15 after three, then 20 after four, wrapping up a 63-43 win. Bjorkman led the Wildcats with 11 points, Ploog added 10.
“You learn to play with people and when they’re not there, it takes some time to adjust,” mentioned Wachutka. “Kari does such a good job rebounding, that’s where you could really see it. But, at the same time, other girls stepped up. Jess Peterson got her first start and she played well, Sarah Ploog played well, so it definitely wasn’t for a lack of effort. They just wore us down.”
The 20 point setback was the ‘Cats first loss since Christmas, dropping their record to 9-5 overall and 7-2 in conference.
Chisago Lakes 43
1 2 3 4 F
Chisago Lakes 13 4 15 11 43
STMA 12 19 16 16 63
Bjorkman 11, Ploog 10, Reed 7, Peterson 7, Wachutka 4, Sprecher 3, Skoog 1.
Chisago Lakes 88
Last Friday, Kari Schmidt returned to the line-up versus winless Zimmerman.
Hmmm.....Schmidt back, the Wildcats still mad after losing to St. Michael, things looked bleak for the Thunder- even worse than normal.
It took eight minutes for the Wildcats to decide the game, scoring 30 points in the first quarter- more points than Zimmerman scored the entire game. Seven ‘Cats struck gold in the opening quarter, led by Ploog’s eight points. Schmidt returned to the line-up with a quick six.
“I felt good about a win,” said Wachutka. “I was honest with the girls before the game about what to expect. We really wanted to focus on playing good team basketball, playing well, and we did.”
The Wildcats let off the gas a little bit in the second quarter, adding 21 more points. Schmidt added to her point total with nine points in the quarter, everyone else in a Chisago uniform had two. As for Zimmerman, the Thunder failed to strike, not scoring a point the entire quarter, leading to a 51-5 lead at the half.
“I was pleased with everything because you always want to know if your team is going to play disciplined basketball or play sloppy,” replied Wachutka. “There is a tendency in a game like that for the kids to start thinking about points and I didn’t see that. We played great team basketball. We had the most assists of the season in that game.”
To further illustrate that point, Chisago Lakes had eight players score in the first half, 10 scored in the second. With everyone seeing court time, the Wildcats outscored Zimmerman 37-16 in the second half, finishing off an 88-21 win in fine fashion. Twelve ‘Cats dressed varsity for the game and all 12 scored.
Schmidt led all scorers with 16 points, 14 of those came in the first half. Ploog reached double figures for the second consecutive game with 14, and Kayla Ferris scored 10.
The Wildcats pushed their conference mark to 7-2 with round one of their conference schedule now complete.
Chisago Lakes 88
1 2 3 4 F
Zimmerman 5 --- 10 6 21
Chisago Lakes 30 21 18 19 88
Schmidt 16, Ploog 14, Ferris 10, Reed 8, Wachutka 8, Peterson 7, Skoog 6. Bjorkman 6, Nelson 6, Sprecher 3, Cunningham 2, Schares 2.
Chisago Lakes 62
Spring Lake Park 59 (ot)
While their win over Zimmerman was anything but close, less than 24 hours later, the Wildcats went down to the wire versus Spring Lake Park, actually extending it by defeating the Panthers 62-59 in overtime.
After jumping out to a 10-8 lead, Spring Lake Park used their balance to strike for 15 more points in the second quarter. However, the ‘Cats kept the damage to a minimum, thanks in large part to their free throw shooting. Chisago Lakes went 9-11 from the charity stripe in the first half, six coming from Schmidt, tying the game 25-25 after 16 minutes of play.
“It was tough inside in the first half,” remembered Wachutka. “Spring Lake Park is a very good team. They are physical and they did a nice job shutting us down inside in the first half.”
In other words, they did a nice job on Schmidt, a trend that would be reversed in the second.
Chisago Lakes started the second half of play by getting their senior post the ball. In addition, Reed added her outside presence, turning the Wildcat attack two dimensional. The Schmidt-Reed tandem was so successful that both combined to score 15 in the third quarter, accounting for all of Chisago Lakes points.
However, Spring Lake Park had a two-headed monster of their own by the name of Ashley Traynor and Melissa Maynard. Although not as loud, Traynor and Maynard kept the Panthers close, forcing the score even at the end of three 40-40 with one quarter left, or so they thought.
In the fourth, it was more of the same for Chisago, meaning Schmidt and Reed went back to work. While Schmidt struck for nine more points down the stretch, Reed canned an important three-pointer, giving the duo 12 of the ‘Cats fourth quarter points.
Not to be outdone, the Panthers stayed with the Wildcats to the very end, led by Traynor who scored seven points in the fourth, once again tying the score with just second to go in regulation. Tied 54-54, Spring Lake Park had the ball.
“During their last possession, we put Kari on their best player and neither of their two top players even got a chance to touch the ball over the last 11 seconds,” remembered Wachutka. “That forced one of their other players to force up a desperation shot at the buzzer. We played great defense. When Kari wasn’t in there, Abby Bjorkman, Sarah Ploog, Jess Peterson, and Genna (Wachutka) all did a great job guarding their top two players.”
Both teams went scoreless to start the extra session, both missing on their first two possessions. Then, out of nowhere, Schmidt turned it on. After an offensive rebound, the senior powered up a basket and the foul, putting the ‘Cats up three. Very next possession, very same thing, an offensive board and a foul. Already with 24 points, Schmidt’s two free throws increased the Chisago lead to five. However, Spring Lake Park wasn’t done.
Quiet in the second half, one half of Panthers dynamic duo, Melissa Maynard, answered with five straight points to tie the score again, 59-59. Hoping to catch the Wildcats off guard, the Spring Lake Park also answered with a press, a press that the Wildcats easily beat. Pushing the ball up the court with time winding down, Ploog found Genna Wachutka on the baseline for the go-ahead shot, putting Chisago in the lead for good, 61-59. Seconds later, Wachutka sealed things with a free throw, completing a heart-stopping 62-59 overtime win, the Wildcats 11 win of the season.
“We did have a ton of turnovers which really kept them in the game,” said Wachutka. “To be honest, to win a game like that is kind of a surprise. It was really rewarding. We were on the road, playing back-to-back games against a very good team. I think it might have been one of our most important wins of the season.”
With her six points in overtime, Schmidt finished with a game high 26 points. Not far behind was Reed who dropped in 20. After that, no other Wildcat scored more than four.
This week the ‘Cats return to conference play with Big Lake and Foley, kicking off the second half of the conference season.
Chisago Lakes 62
Spring Lake Park 59 (ot)
1 2 3 4 OT F
Chisago Lakes 8 17 15 14 9 62
SLP 10 15 15 14 5 59
Schmidt 26, Reed 20, Peterson 4, Bjorkman 4, Wachutka 4, Ploog 2, Sprecher 2.