At this point in the prep basketball season, teams are just about done “figuring out” who they are. At this point, one win or loss probably won’t shake the foundation of a season; teams are just attempting to solidify their identity and earn extra momentum as they inch toward the postseason.
Unless of course that team is a brand new program and that one game happens to be a big win. If you’re the Tri-City United girls’ basketball team, you might be just starting to roll.
That was the feeling at Le Center High School Thursday night as the Titans upset the Belle Plaine Tigers 51-46 in Minnesota River Conference play. It was TCU’s first conference win, and only their second overall this season after losing their past 12 straight. Titans head coach Kevin Woitas repeatedly stressed his team’s need to control the basketball, even telling KCHK before the game that they spend an hour a day working on ball handling.
Thursday night, despite some wild and sloppy play at times, those hours of practice paid off. TCU was able to keep its turnovers to a minimum—especially in the second half—and force Belle Plaine out of its element. Tigers head coach Jarod Werner said his team needed to jump out to an early lead and maintain their style of play throughout the game; the Titans refused to let either of those things happen.
The first half saw Belle Plaine as the slightly more dominant team, although both teams were quick to turn over the ball and quick to foul. Patience and persistence allowed Belle Plaine to score repeatedly in the paint even though TCU’s defense was trying to force a perimeter game. But the Titans played a patient game of their own, moving the ball fairly well in their half-court offense and spreading the points around between players both in the paint and on the perimeter.
In the last three minutes of the first half, TCU capitalized on Belle Plaine fouls and mistakes, and the Titans surged ahead to take their first lead of the game heading into the halftime locker rooms.
The teams reversed roles coming out of the break, with the Titans showing more dominance throughout the second half. More foul trouble forced the Tigers to sparingly use Abby Wolpern, their go-to post, until she fouled out of the game with just two minutes remaining; point guard Haley Fogarty wasn’t far behind. For the Titans, despite early foul trouble, only Tessa Grundoffer saw bench time for the last 30 seconds of the game.
Belle Plaine showed plenty of strength, depth and versatility, but lacked control despite a roster full of experience. For a fairly young and struggling team, Tri-City United displayed a unique consistency and composure, even when the Tigers late surge—and a wide-open three from senior Becky Koepp—brought them within three points with just 17 seconds remaining. TCU junior Coley Selly sealed the win for the Titans after she was fouled and sunk both free throws in the game’s final moments. After a season filled so far with moral victories and “almost” games, Woitas said his team finally played like they knew they could.
Belle Plaine was led in scoring by Fogarty with 12 points and Claire Otto with 10. Bobbi Stark, Wolpern and Koepp contributed nine, seven and six points, respectively. For Tri-City United, Alyshia Angileno stepped when it mattered and pulled down big rebounds, and also led all scorers with 14 points. Katrina Christian scored nine, Samantha Duque scored eight, and Hannah Malecha contributed six points.
The Tigers (7-10 overall; 4-4 MRC) will host Le Sueur-Henderson on Tuesday, while the Titans (2-13 overall; 1-7 MRC) will travel to St. Peter on Monday and Sibley East on Tuesday.