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Girls Basketball

Central falls short in defensive battle against Brandon Valley

Aberdeen Central’s Brooklyn Kusler, center, looks to pass the ball as she is pressured by Brandon Valley’s Hilary Behrens (30) during Thursday’s game at the Class AA State Tournament at the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls. Photo by John Davis taken 3/11/2021

SIOUX FALLS – Brandon Valley took Aberdeen Central out of its comfort zone and eventually took away the Golden Eagles’ title hopes Thursday night at the Sanford Pentagon.

The Lynx pulled out a 33-30 defensive grinder in the opening round of the Class AA State Girls’ Basketball Tournament.

“It was a defensive battle, that’s for sure. We were never comfortable with that ball on the offensive end. We were just never comfortable,” said Central Coach Dawn Seiler. “You have to give their defense a lot of credit. They took away our good guard play, made it really tough for us to score.”

Not that Brandon Valley was exactly lighting it up on its end, either. In fact, the Brandon Valley held on to a 30-28 lead for more than three minutes down the stretch as neither team could find a way to dent the other’s defense.

“We had the same thing going on our end,” said Brandon Valley coach Mike Zerr. “We’re trying to find a little crease, a little crack, maybe get to get to the foul line to see if we could create some offense.”

Central eventually tied the game at 30-30 on two Kianna Mounga free throws with 1:21 remaining.

Hilary Behrens put the Lynx ahead to stay with a foul shot with just under a minute left. After Central missed two attempts, Behrens added two more free throws for the final margin. The Golden Eagles missed one final attempt in the closing seconds.

“The state tournament always comes down to who can defend. They showed up and brought a lot of energy so kudos to them,” said Central senior Brooklyn Kusler. “They did a really good job defensively. It was like who was going to play the better defense is basically what it came down to.”

Brandon Valley allowed just five points in each of the first two quarters and six in the final period.

“You install a game plan and you’re hopeful as coach that it will work with what you’re trying to see,” Zerr said. “A game plan is only as good as the kids that execute it and we have incredibly tough, incredibly smart kids that bought into everything we were trying to say and it ended up working.”

But not by much, because Central’s defense was stellar in its own right.

“You talk about our defensive look. Holy cow, the amount of respect and toughness that that team has is immense,” Zerr said of Central. “For our team to get one more basket down the stretch, it’s an incredible contest and that’s what this should be. That’s what these tournament games should be. They should be great games between great teams and tonight was that.”

Brandon Valley set the tone from the opening whistle with its defense. The Golden Eagles fell behind 5-0 to start the game and only led once 24-23 for about a half a minute late in the third quarter.

“They put a lot of pressure on the ball and they come out and guard as hard as they can,” said Central senior guard Melanie Jacobs. “We knew that was coming. We needed to move the ball.”

Behrens led the Lynx with 12 points.

Abby Kopecky scored 10 points and Kusler finished with eight for the Golden Eagles.

Central, 18-4, takes on Harrisburg in consolation round action at 2:45 this afternoon.

“We’re disappointed with how today went, but we’re not going to shy away,” Jacobs said. “We’ve got two more games to win. Especially for the seniors, that’s how we want to go out.”

BRANDON VALLEY (17-5): Emma Jarovski 1 2-4 4, Hilary Behrens 3 5-6 12, Sidney Thue 3 0-0 6, India Bradfield 1 0-0 3, Kyle Foss 1 0-0 2, Taylor Stemen 2 0-0 6. Totals 11-36 7-10 33.

ABERDEEN CENTRAL (18-4): Melanie Jacobs 2 0-0 5, Taryn Hettich 0 1-2 1, Abby Kopecky 3 4-4 10, Brooklyn Kusler 2 4-5 8, Kiana Mounga 2 2-2 6. Totals 9-37 11-13 30.

Brandon Valley 5 17 24 33

Aberdeen Central 5 10 24 30

3-point field goals – Behrens, Bradfield, Stemen 2; Jacobs. Total fouls – Brandon Valley 12; Aberdeen Central 14. Rebounds – Brandon Valley 26 (Behrens 7); Aberdeen Central 26 (Hettich 8). Turnovers – Brandon Valley 16; Aberdeen Central 17. Assists – Brandon Valley 7 (Jarovski 4); Aberdeen Central 6 (Hettich 4). Steals – Brandon Valley 11 (Behrens 5); Aberdeen Central 8 (Hettich 3).

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