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Trinity girls get first playoff victory

Published March 6 at 11:40 p.m. | Last updated March 6 at 11:41 p.m.

ANDALE — A win four years in the making came down to defense and free throws. Trinity Academy’s girls survived the free-throw test and thrived on defense in a 40-36 win over Andale in their Class 4A-Division II sub-state semifinal game on Thursday night.

More than just a key win to advance to Saturday’s championship game, this one will go down in school history.

“We’ve never won a playoff game on the girls side before,” Trinity coach Bret Gunderson said. “So that was the goal when I got here four years ago, and we got it tonight.”

Quality guard play from both teams highlighted the matchup. Trinity, the 3-seed in this four-team sub-state, got strong efforts from guards Kaleigh Schrag, Whitney Guetersloh and Shiloh Miller to build a 12-5 advantage early in the second quarter. Andale, the home team and second seed, responded with an 8-0 run to take the lead.

Indians guards Brittany Meyer and Jaiden Easter led an effective full-court press in the first half that swung the momentum in the home team’s favor. After forward Kylee Ebert hit 1 of 2 free throws, the press forced a Trinity turnover and Easter quickly hit a three-pointer from the right corner for a 13-12 lead.

The overpowering defense from both teams put Trinity (13-8) in the rare spot of scoring 16 first-half points but still in the lead. The Knights tried to increase the advantage early in the third quarter with a full-court press of their own, and the plan was effective enough to grab the first six points of the half for Trinity’s largest lead of the game.

But adjustments from Andale coach Mark Kerschen allowed the Indians to find a backdoor weakness that led to three quick scores and a 28-26 Andale lead with six minutes left in the fourth quarter.

“We held back at first and then right away in the second half we started with the press,” Gunderson said. “But down the stretch they did a good job of adjusting, so we had to fall back and make some adjustments ourselves.”

The defensive chess match swung in Trinity’s favor when Andale (13-8) hit foul trouble. Ashleigh Hunter and starting forward Lauren Rowland both eventually fouled out.

Schrag hit two free throws with 3:27 left to tie the game at 31. Back-to-back scores in the paint from Trinity’s Micala Hollinger gave the Knights the lead for good. The team hit just 5 of 10 free throws over the final 90 seconds, but it was enough to preserve the win.

“It was really overwhelming for all of us, because we know this is the first time we’ve done this,” Guetersloh said of the historic win for the girls’ program. “We know our defense is the key to everything, so we had to work hard for it.”

The final score sheet showed the true team effort from the undersized Trinity squad. Schrag was the only player to hit double figures in scoring and more than half of her 13 points came from free throws. No Trinity player made more than three shots from the field.

“They work hard. That’s the only way they can do that,” Gunderson said. “It’s exciting to see it. And that’s such a good team. I thought Meyer handled us really well. We have a lot of respect for her. But we did it. This was our best win of the year – maybe our best in the history of the program.”

Meyer led Andale with 10 points.

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Trinity — K. Schrag 13, C. Zeilke 2, S. Miller 8, T. Billings 4, K. Miller 3, M. Clinton 2, A. West 2, M. Hollinger 6.

Andale — J. Easter 5, B. Meyer 10, A. Maxwell 3, L. Rowland 6, K. Ebert 7, S. VenJohn 5.