PEQUOT LAKES -- With four first-year starters for the Pierz Pioneers girls' basketball team and three for the Pequot Lakes Patriots, any resemblance of last year's Class AA tournament teams is minimal.
However, with a combined 10 players lost to graduation, Tuesday's non-conference marquee matchup was like a state tournament game with six ties and 15 lead changes. Unfortunately for Pierz, the last lead change resulted in the Patriots picking up a 54-53 win.
Despite 13 three-point baskets made by the teams the game was decided by a single free throw as eighth-grader Teresa Parker nailed the second of two shots to give Pequot a one-point lead with 3:08 left in the fourth quarter.
Both teams had numerous chances to either regain or build upon the lead but Pierz's last chance might have been the best.
With 25 seconds left and Pierz inbounding the ball after a timeout, the Pioneers got the ball in the hands of their best shooter, Shiela Stegora. After a pump fake and two dribbles Stegora got off a jump shot but watched as it rolled around the rim and eventually came out. With bodies flying for the rebound the final buzzer sounded.
"I wanted to penetrate with 15 seconds left and give ourselves a shot with 10 seconds," said Pierz coach Rick Sczublewski. "If we made it we would go back to man-to-man defense and if we miss foul right away.
"I thought Missy (Girtz) had a shot right away that I think she should have taken but that left Shiela with a 10-foot shot and with her having 25 points that could have easily went in.
"It looked dead-center from the bench. But that's kind of been the story of our season; we miss it when we really need it."
The Pioneers went into the fourth quarter with a four-point lead but scored only four in the final frame. A basket by Flecia Foster brought the score to 49-47. After a Becky Korf free throw made it 50-47, Pequot freshman Megan Arns, who was cold from the field all night, tied it with a three-pointer from the left corner.
"Coach basically said if I didn't shoot I was going to sit next to him on the bench," said Arns, who finished with 12 points despite shooting just 1-7 in the first half. "So I just started shooting and it just came to me. I got lucky a couple of times."
With the score tied at 50, Missy Girtz's three-pointer gave Pierz another three-point lead. After an Ashley Meschke free throw and another Arns basket tied the game again, Parker stepped up to the free throw line and won the game.
Stegora did score 25 points and Girtz 10. Julie Redebaugh led the Patriots with 14 points.
"This is probably the best ballgame we've played since Christmas," said Sczublewski. "We've been in sort of a rut, defensively in particular. We have to find an identity defensively. I think tonight we found a little bit of one.
"We did some nice things. I thought we rebounded well and controlled the tempo."
If there was a determining factor in the game it might have been home-court advantage. Pequot has won 38 straight home games dating back to 1998.
"The way I looked at this game I was coming into this as an underdog," said Pequot coach Bill Larson. "The reason for that is they have a lot of good leadership out there. They play a lot of games like this and it shows.
"They have a lot of composure and they had a great shot at the end from their No. 1 shooter, 10-feet out and this game could have gone either way.
"Both sides really buckled down defensively and Allyson Kloss is one of the best athletes I have seen in this area in a long time and she's only a sophomore."
Pierz 12 18 19 4 -- 53
Pequot Lakes 12 14 19 9 -- 54
Sheila Stegora 25, Allyson Kloss 3, Melissa Girtz 10, Shelly Boser 6, Becky Korf 1, Melinda Janson 3, Stacy Britz 2 Emily Stumpf 3. Team totals: FG 18-62 (29 percent), FT 9-15 (60 percent). Conference -- 4-2. Overall -- 10-6. Next game: at Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted 7:30 p.m. Friday.
PEQUOT LAKES (54)
Julie Redebaugh 14, Megan Arns 12, Joan Ebnet 8, Flecia Foster 3, Teresa Parker 6, Ashley Meschke 2, Jamie Schmidt 9. Team totals: FG 18-46 (39 percent), FT 13-21 (62 percent). Conference -- 1-0. Overall -- 10-2. Next game: at Pine River-Backus 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.
3-point baskets -- P 8 (Stegora 3, Girtz 2, Boser 2, Stumpf 1), PL 5 (Ebnet 2, Arns 2, Redebaugh 1). Total fouls -- P 15, PL 12.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.