Chargers’ win sets up a likely historic night in Morris

Brandon-Evansville’s career scoring leader, Heather Strese, has one more milestone to check off her list before her career comes to an end with the Chargers this season.

Strese went into last night’s Section 6A South quarterfinal game against Underwood needing 31 points to become the first player in school history to reach 2,000 in her career. The Rockets let it be known early that it wasn’t going to happen on their watch as Underwood sent constant double and triple teams at her throughout the night.

Photo by Eric Morken/Echo Press: Heather Strese looked for an open teammate as Underwood's Carly Masloski, right, and Jasmine Richey double-teammed her on the block on Thursday night.

“I wasn’t expecting on getting it tonight,” Strese said after her team persevered for a 50-48 win in overtime. “I knew Underwood was going to come out with two, three people on me. I knew I wasn’t going to get it, so I’m not disappointed.”

Strese can say that because she knows she’ll have a much better shot at reaching the milestone against Hancock in the subsection semifinals on Saturday night.

Strese isn’t shy about admitting how much reaching 2,000 points would mean to her. She passed her sister, Megan, to become the career scoring leader at Brandon-Evansville earlier this season. Now she needs just 13 points to grab a more significant milestone after scoring 18 against the Rockets last night.

“That’s by far my goal,” she said. “I can barely sleep at night. I literally dream about it. It’s constantly what I think about, but coming out here and playing, I didn’t think about it once tonight. I think that helped take the pressure off.”

The way Strese played indicated that she really didn’t have that on her mind once she hit the floor. She didn’t force shots when the Rockets swarmed her from all sides in the post. Instead, she relied on her teammates to make shots to get the win.

It looked like that might backfire in the first half. The Rockets dared the Chargers’ guards to shoot from the perimeter throughout the entire night. That strategy worked for Underwood in the first half as Brandon-Evansville hit just one three on its way to¬† 11 points by the break.

The Rockets couldn’t take advantage of that on their own offensive end. They trailed most of the half before Carly Masloski scored six straight points in the final two minutes to give her team a four-point lead at the half.

They carried that momentum into the opening minutes of the second half. Underwood stretched its lead to double digits with around 10 minutes to go. At that point, Brandon-Evansville started to make just enough shots to get back in it. Elizabeth Vinson came off the bench and started it with a three that seemed to take some pressure off her and her teammates.

“That kind of opened the floodgates,” head coach Dick Simpon said. “It was a big shot from her.”

Brandon-Evansville went on to take a seven-point lead with 1:21 left in the game before Underwood made a comeback of its own. Strese had a chance to make it a two-possession game in the final minute but two missed free throws gave the Rockets a chance. Karin Mortenson took advantage by hitting a three that eventually forced overtime with the two teams tied at 45 apiece.

Photo by Eric Morken/Echo Press: Sophomore Kinsley Randt hit the eventual game winner in overtime as Brandon-Evansville survived its opening round game against Underwood.

Brandon-Evansville’s Kinsley Randt stepped up and hit the biggest shot in the extra session. In a tie game in the final minute, the sophomore guard passed up two wide open looks from the right wing as her defender doubled Strese down in the post. Randt fed the ball to Strese in a crowd, who immediately kicked it back out to Randt. This time, she made Underwood pay for ignoring her as she drained a jumper from just inside the three-point line that proved to be the game winner.

“It felt good,” Randt said. “I felt like I can do it, and that I can help out this team.”

Strese couldn’t have been happier for her on a night when the Rockets were daring Randt and other perimeter players to beat them.

“I’m glad she was confident in making it,” Strese said of Randt. “I know the first time when she was completely wide open, it might not have been in rhythm. Giving it back to her, I was reassuring her, ‘you need to shoot it because I can’t.’ I’m triple-teamed, so I can’t do anything. I’m glad everyone stepped up and made their shots in the second half.”

Randt finished with nine points on the night. Sophomore Megan Kokett also hit a couple important threes on her way to 11 points, while Megan Friedrich finished with eight. It was their ability to hit enough shots that proved to be the difference in the end.

“The other kids came through,” Simpon said. “They really did. Heather has carried us so many games, and the other kids came through in the second half and hit some shots. That was it.”

That set up the rematch with a 20-4 Hancock team tomorrow at 8 p.m. on the University of Minnesota-Morris campus. The Owls won 51-37 the only time these two teams met in the regular season on December 1. Strese had 13 points that night. She’ll need at least that many again to reach the final milestone in her already storied career with the Chargers.

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