Fire defeat Delano in OT thriller

On Thursday, girls basketball faced off against the Delano Tigers in a competitive Wright County Conference matchup. After a slow first half, the Fire proved they were capable of playing against a strong Delano team.

In a nail-biting second half, the girls were able to gain momentum, and after a clutch game-tying shot to end regulation, they were able to pull off a 49-43 win.

The first half started off at a slow tempo for both teams. This was the first game back for the girls since the 18th due to weather and scheduling complications, so Coach Thompson said that in order to bring the “game-flow” back to the team, “we played full court, started trapping, and full-court pressing – not only to throw them off but to get our energy level up and create points that weren’t just in the half-court set.”

Turnovers were a big problem for the Fire, giving up a dozen fast-break opportunities that the Tigers capitalized on. Captain Shea Thompson stated that Delano was able to manipulate their tempo by locking them down defensively: “They played a slower paced game and we¬†stooped to their level. That’s not what we like to do, we tend to play faster.”

Offensively, the girls drew numerous fouls against the Tigers early on by playing aggressively down in the paint. Each team’s inability to work around their opponents strengths led to a back and forth battle and a 22-20 score at the half.

Coach Thompson said that the girl’s second-half goals were to “play team-defense, play with energy, and offensively move the ball better.” Shea Thompson added, “We were moving the ball alright in the 1st half, but the pace of the game wasn’t ideal for the way we wanted to move the ball.”

The second half can be described as a successful turnaround from a slow and unsatisfying first-half performance. Each team came out at halftime motivated and aware of the adjustments they had to make to play against their opponent.

Offensively, a huge factor for the Fire was junior Leigh Steiner, whose 14 points came from fast break opportunities and aggressive¬†drives into the heart of Delano’s defense. With under three minutes left in the 2nd half, the girls knew that turnovers and basic errors were not an option.

With 30 seconds left, the Fire were able to gain possession of the ball and move it downcourt where numerous timeouts were called to preserve the team’s composure. Grace Conroy elaborated on the team’s efforts with less than a minute left to go in regulation: “Composure is something we’ve been working on all season. Practicing like it’s a game is the main reason we are able to keep our composure.”

The final play wasn’t something drawn up on the whiteboard. A play that was initially intended for a shot down low was instead passed across the key to Anna Vakulskas who was wide-open. Her last second jumper tied the game 39-39 at the end of regulation, sending the teams to overtime.

Anna’s last second shot was a huge boost in momentum for the Fire in overtime. Offensively, the team was aggressive and crisp in passing the ball, forcing the Tigers to foul when the girls took a 4 point lead. The girls headed to the line 5 times in the 4-minute period and went 10/10 on free-throws. Their perfect free-throw shooting sealed a 49-43 win.

When asked about the team’s free throw shooting, Shea Thompson mentioned that, “Each team member shoots 2 free throws before water breaks, and if we don’t make them, we have to run. We always practice free throws. It’s a large reason why we were able to stay in the game.”

Leading scorers for the Fire were juniors Leigh Steiner and Grace Conroy with 16 points and 9 points, alongside senior Shea Thompson with 6 pts.

At the end of the night, we asked the team, including Coach Thompson what the team’s goals were for their next game:

“We want to start strong, that’s been one of our main goals in the second half of the season. We need to stay composed and structured as a team. And we need to attack. We need to be in the game and play to the best we can and not lack in playing our own game.” – Coach Thompson

“We are coming up on playing some tough teams so we need to come out with more energy, stay composed, play at our own pace, and play as a team.” – Shea Thompson

“We need to start out with energy, making the little shots, capitalizing on finals, play team defense, and buy into our scouting report.” – Anna Vakulskas

The girls next game is on Friday, January 26 at 7pm at Hutchinson High School.