Knights hold off Hazen’s second-half charge

With its lack of size, winning the battle on the boards is a difficult task for the Our Redeemer’s Christian School girls basketball team.

Yet the Knights managed to grab two of the biggest rebounds in their non-district game with Hazen on Saturday.

With ORCS leading by five with less than two minutes left, senior guard Jenny Skees raced from the three-point line, grabbed the rebound off a missed free throw from freshman Morgan Olson and knocked down the two-footer. It was her only basket of the second half as the Knights defeated Hazen 53-49.

“We’ve practiced that for five years now and this is probably the second time we’ve gotten a basket out of it,” ORCS coach Kory Nelson said. “It paid off tonight.”

The Bison (3-4) still had a chance to pull out a last-second victory after cutting ORCS’ lead down to two with 28 seconds left. Hazen fouled Olson, who hit 1 of 2 free throws, and ORCS junior McKensie Popinga grabbed the rebound to keep possession. Popinga also went 1 for 2 from the charity stripe, making it a two-possession game. A block by Olson with six seconds left sealed the Knights’ victory.

“When it came to crunch time I thought we did a good job of getting to the foul line and staying calm,” Olson said.

ORCS (6-5) appeared poised to run away from the Bison after jumping out to a 20-7 lead at the end of the first quarter. The Knights closed out the quarter on a 12-2 run, with the only Hazen basket coming from senior Kendra Slaubaugh.

ORCS stretched its lead to 16 after Skees knocked down a 3-pointer and a basket by Olson ballooned the Knights’ advantage to 18 – their largest of the game. ORCS led 30-18 at halftime. Skees finished with 11 points.

The Bison shot just 22 percent from the field, but were able to knock down six buckets in the third quarter. Senior Ashton Carter drained a 3 to open the second half and sophomore Krista Slaubaugh and senior Lexie Biffert hit two more as Hazen whittled ORCS’ lead to two heading to the fourth.

“I was proud of the way the girls came back in the second half,” Hazen coach John Ward said. “We gave ourselves a shot despite shooting 22 percent. Can’t complain about defense. Can’t complain about how the offense worked, just needed to make some shots.”

The Knights struggled to break Hazen’s full-court press, leading to a plethora of turnovers. ORCS managed just nine points in the third quarter.

“We knew (Hazen) had a great press and we had to figure out how to break that to win the game,” Nelson said. “I take my hat off to the girls. We talked about how sometimes when we get down in a game we give up. Tonight, when (Hazen) started making their run, you could tell our girls wanted the game. They pushed through it.”

Clinging to a minuscule lead, the Knights were forced to play without Olson for the first half of the fourth quarter after she picked up her fourth foul with 48 seconds left in the third. Despite its leading scorer on the bench, ORCS maintained its lead as both teams went cold from the field. Popinga scored the first points of the fourth quarter with 5:17 left. Olson returned with 4:27 left and finished with a game-high 23 points.

Dakota Wood led the Bison with 12 points.

The Knights were without junior guard Gabi Boeckel, who was attending a Christian retreat this weekend. Nelson said Boeckel will be in the lineup Tuesday when ORCS hosts top-ranked Bishop Ryan at 7:15 p.m.

Mike Kraft covers high school athletics and hockey. Follow him on Twitter @MKraft23_MDN.