OAKDALE — The Stillwater girls’ basketball team limited Tartan standout Tia Elbert to less than half her season scoring average while pulling away for a 66-52 victory in Wednesday’s Section 4AAAA quarterfinal at Tartan High School.
The Ponies flashed some offensive firepower of their own as junior Erin Thiets scored a season-high 25 points and senior teammate Paige Becker added 24 — also a season high — to help pave the way for the program’s first postseason victory since 2010.
Stillwater (9-18) moves on to face top-seeded White Bear Lake, a 75-32 winner over North St. Paul, in the semifinals on Saturday at East Ridge High School. Game time is 7:30 p.m. The other semifinal features No. 2 Roseville (21-6) vs. No. 3 St. Paul Central (22-5) starting at 5:30 p.m. White Bear Lake (24-3) defeated the Ponies 66-37 and 61-19 in conference play earlier this season.
“We haven’t won a section game in four years and we’ve talked about that as a program that we have to get wins in March,” Ponies coach Gerard Coury said. “We got one. It feels good to win.”
Stillwater, which lost to the Titans 78-76 on Jan. 11, led by as many as nine points on two occasions early in the second half on Wednesday, but Tartan charged back to take a 49-48 lead on a 3-pointer by Shaniah Haugen with 6:40 remaining. Becker answered with two free throws for the Ponies to regain the lead and they never trailed again. Those free throws sparked a 9-0 run for Stillwater that included a lay-up by Rilee Day and two baskets by Thiets for a 57-49 advantage.
The prospects looked even brighter for the Ponies once Elbert picked up her fifth foul with 2:10 remaining.
The Marquette recruit was averaging 37.3 points per game this season and had scored fewer than 30 points just three times. The Ponies limited her to just 18 points — which was nine points fewer than her previous low-scoring total of 27 this season.
“She averages (37 points) for a reason,” Ponies coach Gerard Coury said. “She’s one of the top five players in the state. I coached her last summer, so I know how good she is. She is a tough competitor, a fierce competitor, and you saw the team when she’s not in there. I don’t know what she finished with, but we knew we weren’t going to stop her. We just had to slow her down and make her work because she’s going to score.”
After Thiets’ offensive rebound putback with three minutes remaining, the Ponies scored their last nine points at the free throw line.
Madisen Schmitt added eight points for Stillwater and Day chipped in with seven.
“We kind of talked about how it has to be a team effort,” Coury said. “We don’t have a No. 21 (Elbert), but we have a bunch of solid, tough kids and we knew that we had to over achieve and play hard and compete and if all of us don’t play together then we can’t win games. We can’t wait for a kid to get 30 and get W’s, that’s not us.”
The Ponies haven’t always been a strong closer this season, but persevered after giving up a lead against Woodbury in the regular season finale and played strong down the stretch against the Titans.
“There has to be a belief in that locker room that we can win,” Coury said. “We’ve had a lot of tough games, a lot of close games — and we’ve lost a lot of close games. It came down to us making plays. We said it’s up to you. You have to make plays.
“The Woodbury game was huge because we were up 12 and they came back to tie us, but we were able to pull away. We’ve had this run of getting a lead — Cretin, East Ridge, the whole list — and just didn’t get wins, but the last two we were able to get wins.”
Stillwater’s last trip to the semifinals was a crushing triple-overtime loss against Woodbury.
Stillwater 31 35 — 66
Tartan 26 26 — 52
Stillwater (pts): Alexis Wahlstrom 1, Claire Patterson 1, Erin Thiets 25, Rilee Day 7, Madisen Schmitt 8 and Paige Becker 24.
Tartan: Anne Hanson 11, Larissa Jones 3, Shaniah Haugen 12, Stardasha Davenport 2, Tia Elbert 18, Zaria Whitlock 3 and Marcie Israelson 3.
3-pointers: St (3): Becker 3; Tar (7): Hanson 3, Haugen 3 and Elbert.
Free throws: St, 17-24; Tar, 11-18.
Fouls: St, 12; Tar, 17.
Fouled out: Tar, Elbert.
Contact Stuart Groskreutz at email@example.com
White Bear Lake 75, North St. Paul 32
Stillwater 66, Tartan 52
St. Paul Central 49, Woodbury 38
Roseville 57, Mahtomedi 24
At East Ridge
#2 Roseville (21-6) vs. #3 St. Paul Central (21-5), 5:30 p.m.
#1 White Bear Lake (24-3) vs. #5 Stillwater (9-18), 7:30 p.m.
At East Ridge on Thursday, March 13, 7 p.m.