It was a blow-for-blow battle between Buccaneers on Thursday night at Blue Earth Area High School, where the maroon and gold swapped leads with the visiting Waterville-Elysian-Morristown (WEM) Bucs five different times in the final five minutes of a cross-conference girls basketball clash.
Trailing by nine at one point, the right Buccaneers came out on top, however, at least in the eyes of the BEA crowd. Down seven at halftime and knotted up with WEM in the waning minutes of the contest, the maroon and gold drew four consecutive foul calls and made their final shot with three seconds left to edge the opposing Bucs, 52-50, and capture their third straight victory.
Fresh off a 28-point blowout of Big South Conference rival Fairmont, the BEA girls fell behind as Thursday night's game reached the midway point, but their efforts on the hardwood in the second half, when sophomore forward Caitlin Rorman took charge in the paint, ignited a late back-and-forth that had both the home team's bench and crowd on their feet.
Lindsey Norman, a senior center for the Blue Earth Area Buccaneers, fights for the ball during the maroon and gold’s blowout win over Fairmont on Friday, Jan. 20.
"I'm happy with the way we hung in there on not our best night and figured out a way to win," said head coach Al Cue. "It wasn't pretty, but we did it."
Back-to-back BEA steals by junior forwards Sofie Blair and Reegan Howard helped the maroon and gold offset an early string of three-pointers by WEM, but the visiting Bucs galloped to a 28-19 advantage after a few travel calls against the home squad.
Returning to the court after the break, BEA started on the right foot with a quick score from Rorman and an aggressive steal from junior center Lindsey Norman under the basket. Two free throws from senior center Samantha Ripley then cut WEM's lead to five before a three-point play from Rorman made the score 31-28.
Three straight foul calls put the maroon and gold back at the line, but another traveling violation set up a shot beyond the arc from WEM, which extended its lead to eight with roughly as many minutes to play.
Cue the comeback.
A three by senior reserve Brittany Johnson and back-to-back three-point plays through traffic by Rorman and Norman finally flipped the scoreboard, and the two Bucs teams traded leads 44-43 (BEA), 45-44 (WEM), 47-45 (BEA), 49-47 (WEM) before a foul shot by WEM had the visitors up 50-49 with a minute to go.
After missing a potential go-ahead layup, Norman intentionally fouled to stop the clock at :20, and an out-of-bounds play by WEM handed the maroon and gold a final shot at redemption.
Going up to snag another off-target layup from one of her teammates, Rorman connected for two and drew a third point off a foul with three seconds left to seal BEA's 52-50 thriller of a "W."
BEA 57, Fairmont 29
The last time Big South Conference foes Fairmont and Blue Earth Area got together, the Buccaneer girls got the brunt end of a December thriller on the Cardinals' home court, falling 43-42 despite overcoming a 10-point deficit.
This time, a little over a month later on Friday, Jan. 20, the courts were swapped and so were the results.
Playing host to the Cardinals in another back-to-back clash of boys and girls squads, the Bucs unveiled perhaps the most complete performance of their 2016-17 season, keeping Fairmont scoreless more than 11 minutes into the game and passing their way to a balanced offensive attack for a 57-29 blowout victory.
"I think, combined, on both ends of the floor, we gave our best effort all season," said BEA head coach Al Cue. "We dove after things. We shared the ball. I think we are better now than we were earlier in the year."
The scoreboard would say so, and Friday night's final numbers marked the third time in five games that the BEA girls have posted at least 57 points in a win dating back to a 72-20 rout of St. James on Jan. 5. Plus, the team's one-point heartbreaker against Fairmont earlier in the year may have been cause for a big night against the Cards at home.
"Yeah, I think it motivated the girls," Cue said.
Motivation or not, the Buccaneers had their hands all over Friday night's contest. On a BEA High School court that has, on multiple occasions this season, seen errant passes and an out-rebounded Bucs defense lead to defeat, the maroon and gold topped Fairmont in just about every statistical category, advancing and taking possession of the ball at a rapid rate.
Three straight rebounds by junior forward Reegan Howard kept the rock in BEA's hands early on, and despite some subsequent missed shots, the Bucs relied on a stingy "D" to maintain a 2-0 lead almost five minutes into the rivalry showdown.
The lead jumped to 8-0 and 10-0 after a couple of free-throw opportunities, set up by jump-ball turnovers courtesy of an active Samantha Ripley, BEA's senior center. And Fairmont's first point, which came from one of two foul shots, did not arrive until less than seven minutes remained in the half.
With standout sophomore Caitlin Rorman directing passes and junior forward Sofie Blair coming off the bench and immediately working the paint, the Bucs quickly extended their lead to 13 points.
A late first-half push by Fairmont, which featured a three-pointer and some quick rebounding, had the Cards knocking at the door just before and after the break. Trailing 21-15 at halftime and pulling within six once again early in the second half, Fairmont and its expanding crowd of visiting fans did not threaten for long, however.
Junior center Lindsey Norman kicked off a second-half tear that had her on the verge of a double-double, and her involvement in three consecutive plays early in the return to action ensured BEA was back in front. A layup, two free throws and an under-the-net block to set up a Rorman score had the Bucs up 39-24 in a matter of minutes.
Just about everything else went right for BEA going forward. From quick layups by Howard and across-the-court assists between Blair and her sister, Sidney, to late three-pointers by reserves like senior Brittany Johnson, the Buc girls knew well before the final buzzer that they had already avenged December's close loss to Fairmont.
Junior guard Alissa Norman was carried off the court in the final minutes of BEA's big win after sustaining an injury in a collision with a Fairmont player, but she returned to the bench to witness the Bucs' final points at the end of Friday night's battle.