MAPLEWOOD — Stillwater celebrated an opening-round victory, but that also set up tougher games for the Ponies going forward as they finished fourth at the Hill-Murray girls’ basketball tournament last week.
The Ponies (0-4 SEC, 3-8) snapped a four-game losing streak on Thursday with a 50-47 triumph over Hill-Murray, but was upended in the semifinals by eventual tournament champion Centennial 69-36. Stillwater also fell short against Robbinsdale Cooper 57-36 in the third-place game.
“I thought it was really good overall,” Ponies coach Gerard Coury said. “I think we just ran out of gas going through Games 2 and 3. There was that extra motivation knowing we were selected by the host team to play them first and it was neat seeing the reaction after the game — to see the kids enjoy the game and be on the positive side. The kids are battling. It doesn’t always show in the wins and losses, but they are competing and to be able to pull one off was gratifying.”
n Later this week, the Ponies are hosting Alumni Night when they host Woodbury on Friday at SAHS. Alumni players are encouraged to attend so they can be acknowledged. Following the game there will also be an alumni social at Rafters in downtown Stillwater.
In a game that remained tight throughout, Stillwater was clinging to a late one-point lead before Haley Balzart drained consecutive free throws with 13 seconds remaining to provide 50-47 lead in Thursday’s quarterfinals.
Stillwater also played strong defense down the stretch as the Pioneers missed at the buzzer.
“It was close throughout and the girls were pretty excited about (the win),” Coury said. “We had some kids make some plays.”
The Pioneers (5-5), who knocked off Suburban East Conference teams Mounds View (61-50) and Cretin-Derham Hall (50-45) to finish fifth after falling to Stillwater, hit a shot as time expired in the first half to pull within 23-22. The Ponies struggled against Hill-Murray’s press much of the game, but never trailed in the final eight minutes.
Natalie Johnson finished with 16 points to lead all scorers — with most of those points coming in transition — while Paige Becker added 12 points and a team-high seven rebounds against a team that features 6-foot-3 (Kaitlin Langer) and 6-foot-2 (Tessa Doolittle) post players.
“We defended really hard and took them out of their offense,” Coury said. “Our tallest kid is maybe 5-9 and their best player is 6-3 and they started another 6-2 post, but we were able to rebound against them and keep them out of the paint. They pressed us the whole game and we were able to get (Johnson) going and attacking the rim.”
Langer led the Pioneers with 12 points and Olivia Graskewicz added 11.
Stillwater 23 27 — 50
Hill-Murray 22 25 — 47
Stillwater (pts): Annie Lauber 3, Natalie Johnson 16, Larissa Colvin 2, Morgan Tschumperlin 2, Rilee Day 7, Haley Balzart 6, Madeline Weidner 2 and Paige Becker 12.
Hill-Murray: Olivia Graskewicz 11, McKenzie Lindahl 2, Sami Schneider 4, Ellie Schwartz 3, Allison Angeli 3, Sophie Schwartz 4, Kaitlin Langer 12 and Tessa Doolittle 8.
Centennial 69, Stillwater 36
The Ponies ran into a deep and talented team in Friday’s semifinals as Centennial jumped out to a 41-20 halftime lead. The Cougars, who defeated Wayzata 66-61 in overtime to claim the championship, received 14 points from Destinee Morris and 12 from Paige Waytashek.
“They’re just better than us, there’s no other way to put it,” Coury said.
Paige Becker led the Ponies with sevent points while Balzart and Annie Lauber chipped in with five points apiece.
Stillwater 20 16 — 36
Centennial 41 28 — 69
Stillwater (pts): Annie Lauber 5, Maggie Ogren 2, Natalie Johnson 2, Larissa Colvin 2, Morgan Tschumperlin 2, Lauren Lampright 3, Rilee Day 4, Haley Balzart 5, Alexis Wahlstrom 4 and Paige Becker 7.
Centennial: Nan Glinsek 6, Katie Werth 10, Paige Waytashek 12, Jordan Coffer 5, Kayla Lodico 2, Alayna Bombard 1, Hayley Hofmann 2, Destinee Morris 14, Caitlin Ring 1, Jasmin Bretoi 4, Sarah Grow 2, Jaycie Gerding 7 and Jill Conrad 3.
Robbinsdale Cooper 57, Stillwater 36
The Ponies started well in Saturday’s third-place game, but the Hawks closed out the first half on a 19-4 run to carry a nine-point lead into the intermission and pulled away in the second half.
Johnson finished with 13 points to lead the Ponies, who also received six points apiece from Lauber and Balzart.
“We just ran out of gas,” Coury said. “We turned it over against their press and they went on a run.”
A’ja McCabe and Laurie Bohler tossed in 17 and 15 points to lead Cooper.
Stillwater 21 15 — 36
R. Cooper 30 27 — 57
Stillwater (pts): Annie Lauber 6, Natalie Johnson 13, Sam Houle 2, Larissa Colvin 2, Rilee Day 2, Haley Balzart 6, Meg Pepera 2 and Paige Becker 3.
Cooper: A’ja McCabe 17, Laurie Bohler 15, Jasper McNeal 1, Torri Green 3, Hannah DeNure 2, Talayiah Rich 12 and Manita Kelly 7.
Pony Girls Basketball Camps coming up fast
Registration is underway for the Little Dribblers and Little Ponies basketball camps in January and February under the direction of first-year Stillwater girls’ basketball coach Gerard Coury, with help from the assistant coaches and Ponies players.
The Little Dribblers camp for players in kindergarten through second grade will focus on passing, shooting and dribbling. Saturday sessions are scheduled for Jan. 19 and 26, Feb. 2, 9 and 16 from 8:30-9:30 a.m. The Little Ponies camp sessions are conducted on Thursdays (Jan. 3 and 17, Feb. 14 and 21) from 6:30-7:30 p.m. The Little Ponies program connects high school athletes with young players in grades 3-4, with an emphasis on developing skills for basketball and life — with each Little Pony being assigned a varsity player buddy for the season.
Sign-up is taking place through Community Education at www.stillwaterschools.org/CE. Registrations are accepted until the first day of camp and all participants will receive a t-shirt. Cost for the Little Dribblers Camp is $30 for five sessions and the Little Ponies program is $25 for four sessions. For questions or additional information, contact Coury by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 651-303-5262.