In a game you heard on AM 1480 KAUS, the Austin Packers girls basketball team, the No. 16 team in the state in Class AAA in the latest poll from the Minnesota Basketball News was in search of win number seven in a row Thursday night at Ove Berven Gym versus the Winona Winhawks, winners of two in a row and looking to snap an 11-game losing streak versus the Packers, and in a half-court battle, two free throws from junior guard Marin Keller in a 1-and-1 situation with :15 seconds to go proved to be the difference in a 58-57 Winona win.
The early stages of the game would prove a harbinger of things to come as Austin jumped out to a 7-3 lead, only to see Winona rally back with a 7-0 run to take a 10-7 lead. The Packers worked their way back in front, 17-13, but the Winhawks, keyed by two 3-pointers off the bench from 8th grade guard Brittany Lee, and two others from Keller and sophomore guard Lex Vesel went on a 14-5 run to take their biggest lead of the game at five points at 27-22. Austin, though, would respond as 8th grade guard Quinn Osgood swished one of her three 3-pointers in the first half and scored on a layup off of a steal, one of nine Winona turnovers in the first half to help key a 13-3 Packer run to end the half and make the score 35-30 Austin at the halftime break.
Austin opened up their biggest lead of the game at 41-34 early in the second half, but again when it looked as if the Packers might pull away, the Winhawks rallied back with a 7-1 run of their own to cut the Austin lead to 42-41. Another 3-pointer from Osgood later gave the Packers a 50-44 lead, but Winona responded with a 9-4 run, capped off by a 3-pointer from Vesel with just under 3:30 to go to cut the Austin lead to 54-53. A basket from senior forward Oliva Walsh and a free throw from sophomore guard Ajiem Agwa gave the Packers a 57-53 lead with just over 1 minute left, but Keller answered with a 3-pointer for the Winhawks to cut the Austin lead back to one at 57-56. After the Packers turned the ball over on the ensuing possession, a loose ball in the lane corralled by Keller after a pair of missed shots put her at the line with :15 seconds left, and her pair of free throws in a 1-and-1 situation pushed Winona in front 58-57. Austin then inbounded the ball to senior guard Cassidy Shute, who dribbled to the front of the Packer bench and called timeout with :09 seconds left. On the inbounds play, the Packers worked the ball to Osgood deep on the right wing, but her 3-pointer was blocked by junior forward Mackenzi Simmons, who led the Winhawks in blocked shots with 22 coming into to the game to seal the win for Winona.
Olivia Walsh scored 11 of her 16 points in the second half to lead Austin offensively, while Osgood and Agwa each wound up with 14 points, Cassidy Shute tallied eight points and Marissa Shute scored five points, all in the first half for the Packers, who are now 17-7 overall on the season and 16-4 in the Big 9 Conference with the loss.
Austin is off until next Tuesday when they will travel to Rochester to take on the Mayo Spartans in a game that will more than likely determine the champion of the Big 9 Conference, as depending on the outcome of tonight’s (Friday) game between Mayo and Rochester Century, the Spartans will either have a one-game lead at 17-3 heading into next Tuesday’s game, or the two teams will still be tied atop the conference along with Mankato East at 16-4 if the Spartans fall to the Panthers. Tip-off for next Tuesday’s game will be at 7:30 p.m.