Lady Knights slow down Mayer Lutheran in Class A state quarterfinal win

Kip Kovar, Special to the Herald-Dispatch

Dreams do come true. Just ask the Sleepy Eye St. Mary’s girls basketball team.

After reaching the Class A state tournament for the first time since 2005, the Lady Knights weren’t just satisfied with being there. Taking on Mayer Lutheran in the first round of the Class A state quarterfinals, SESM kept that dream alive with an impressive 78-67 win over the Crusaders Wednesday night at Mankato East High School.

Lady Knights celebrate in the final moments of the game against Mayer Lutheran, from left: Katelyn Rutscher, Liz Schwint, Reagan Severson, and Madison Mathiowetz hugging Assistant Coach (grandpa) Glen Mathiowetz.

“They’ve been working for this since fourth grade,” Knights coach Bruce Woitas said. “That’s been the theme here the last couple of weeks. It’s just great to see them get rewarded. They work hard. Even the girls that don’t get a lot of minutes on the floor right now, they come to practice and make everybody better. It’s a team sport and I’m just really excited for them.”

A good start on both ends of the floor was key for SESM in the win. After holding Mayer Lutheran to just 20 points in the first half, the Knights had an 11-point lead at the break.

“This is what we came into the game hoping we would do,” junior Madison Mathiowetz said. “We were the three seed, so we were kind of the underdogs coming into this. We knew we had a great chance if we played our kind of basketball. We did just that.”

After an 8-0 run early in the second half, the Knights had the Crusaders in a big hole they could never climb out of as they struggled to make a run.

“Basketball is a game of runs,” Mathiowetz said. “We did a really good job of keeping our lead. We held a pretty good lead all game. Keeping that lead and keeping their runs down was huge.”

Mayer Lutheran, a team that thrives on running the floor and making big runs, was held in check all game long by the Knights. Despite cutting the deficit to nine late in the second half, SESM made all the big plays when they needed them.

“That’s huge,” Woitas said about limiting their runs. “We knew Mayer Lutheran was going to be a team that was capable of doing that. We started great defensively. They made a couple of runs in the second half, but overall we played really well.”

Mathiowetz led the charge with a game-high 44 points for SESM. While she carried the load offensively, the Knights had everybody step up in big spots to help lead them to the win.

“It was super important that our role players stepped up,” Mathiowetz said. “Everybody hit some huge free throws at the end of the game down the stretch. Everybody played awesome basketball. They did their jobs and made big plays when it mattered.”

Coming into the matchup, Woitas and the Knights knew they would need to play big against Mayer Lutheran’s size. They did just that with their pressure defense on the perimeter, limiting their chances inside.

“We knew that was going to be a factor,” Woitas said. “Our kids responded defensively. That’s kind of a tough matchup, but I thought we did a great job inside. We shut down their outside game a little bit, too. It’s a great defensive effort on our part. That’s what you’ve got to do at this time of the year.”

With Mayer Lutheran desperately looking to make a comeback late, Woitas had to put all his trust in his star player playing with four fouls down the stretch.

“We had to leave her in there,” Woitas said about Mathiowetz. “She’s a smart player. She finished the game.”

That she did.

With the win, SESM advances to the Class A state semifinals—Tuesday, April 6 at 10 a.m.—where they will take on Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa for a chance to go to the state championship game.

“We knew if we won this game we could get two more,” Mathiowetz said. “We want to make it to that state championship game. Playing at state is great, but you don’t want to lose right away. Not that we get to keep rolling, that’s just the best feeling ever.”

“I’m really proud of these kids,” Woitas added. “They work hard. They love the game. They come to practice every day to get better. It’s all paid off.”

Individual stats: Madison Mathiowetz, 44 points, 15 rebounds; Sydney Windschitl, 19 points, nine rebounds; Reagan Severson, 7 points, one rebound; Emma Currans, 4 points, three rebounds; Katelyn Rutscher, 2 points, four rebounds; Liz Schwint, 2 points, six rebounds.