Waconia earns No. 4 seed

On a night to honor their seniors, the Wildcats played in a way that made the seniors proud in their 68-64 loss to New Prague.

Both teams struggled to score early due in part to solid defense by both squads. The Trojans led 16-13 with 7 minutes left in the first half, but that’s when New Prague started to cash in on some Wildcat miscues. The ‘Cats were usually able to get the ball across half court against the New Prague press but it was after beating the press that the ‘Cats had trouble. 19 first half turnovers translated into lots of extra scoring chances for the Trojans. In the final minutes of the first half the mistakes caught up to the ‘Cats and New Prague carried a 36-20 lead into the locker room.

While the ‘Cats surrendered 68 points the team’s defense was actually pretty strong. The Trojans were able to score some easy baskets off the Wildcat offense via turnovers (39 total for the game) but the ‘Cats half court defense and rebounding was quite solid. In fact, Waconia won the rebounding battle by an astounding 47-19 margin.

“We’ve put up some pretty amazing statistics at times this season and Friday night was another one of those moments,” coach Carl Pierson said. “To dominate the boards against a strong, physical like New Prague is a huge positive and something we can feel good about. But we also had the highest turnover total we’ve had in a game all season. So we’re kind of playing ‘wack-a-mole’. We improve in an area only to see another issue pop up that we need to focus on.”

The Wildcats were able to score with greater efficiency in the second half as Tess Johnson had 20 of her team high 22 points in the second stanza. Courtney Freeberg netted 14 points. Estelle Marker, Sidney Zieske, and Natalie Meath all grabbed eight big rebounds.

“We had great performances from sophomore Courtney Freeberg and freshman Tess Johnson last week,” Pierson said. “Hopefully that’s something that they can build on as we continue to look for some consistent scoring threats.”

Trailing by 10 with 4:36 to play Waconia went to a full court pressure defense of their own and they had the Trojans on the run. The ‘Cats were getting steals and they kept cutting into the lead. Waconia would trail by only four with 30 seconds left but the Trojans were able to hold them off in the closing seconds to escape with the win.

While not as pronounced as the first time the teams met, free throws were again a key difference in the game. New Prague made 15 of their 23 attempts. Waconia would toe the line only five times all game making just one.

While the ‘Cats didn’t care for the final outcome the team feels good about the progress they’ve made and where they are at heading into the post-season. And the team has made this progress thanks to the terrific leadership and selflessness of senior captains Lauren Dirnberger and Tatum Johnson and through the inspiration of Eva Lamkin.

Waconia 53 Buffalo 65

The Wildcats rallied from a historically poor first half of shooting but their second half charge fell short as they lost to Buffalo 65-53 on Tuesday night.

“Again we played well in many facets of the game in the first half against Buffalo but we couldn’t get a shot to drop,” Pierson said. “The encouraging thing is that our team didn’t lay down. They put up a heck of a fight in the second half and really made some nice strides defensively.”

While the Wildcats played pretty good basketball in the first half, they couldn’t get a shot to drop. The ‘Cats made only three of their 32 first half attempts (9.3 percent). Buffalo only got 26 shot attempts but they knocked down 14 of them (53.8 percent). The ‘Cats won the rebounding battle in the first half 17-16.

Things started to turn Waconia’s way a few minutes into the second half. The triumvirate of Estelle Marker, Courtney Freeberg, and Sidney Zieske started to knock down some shots and several steals by the ‘Cats triggered a run that would cut the Bison lead to single digits. But when Buffalo needed a big shot, they seemed to get one and they were able to hang on.

The ‘Cats shot 43 percent in the second half but after the abysmal first half still only made 26.5 percent of their shots for the game. Buffalo cooled off in the second half and ended up shooting 43.5 percent overall. Another key to the second half comeback by the ‘Cats was their low turnover total. Waconia would give the ball away only 6 times in the entire second half.

Zieske led the scoring with 12. She also grabbed rebounds. Courtney Freeberg contributed 11 points and six boards. Estelle Marker made it a double-double with 10 points and a game high 11 rebounds.