BROOKINGS – If a fourth consecutive Class A state girls basketball title was headed St. Thomas More’s way this year, the Cavaliers were going to have to do it without the team they brought to the tournament with them.
By all accounts senior guard Dru Gylten had embraced the sorts of things you want out of a talented point guard for the Cavaliers this season, but she wasn’t able to play in the state championship game because of a knee injury suffered in a semifinal win over Webster Area.
The assignment for STM was to carry on without her and they pulled it off like champs. Now four-time defending champs. The Cavs’ 47-36 win over the Orioles on Saturday night at Frost Arena was also the school’s fifth ‘A’ title in the last six years.
Sometimes you win games by being better than the other team. Sometimes you win by being better that day. With Gylten out the Cavaliers proved they’re capable taking on either challenge, overcoming a sluggish first half in the title game.
“The second half we knew it had to happen now,” said junior Aislinn Duffy, who scored 14 points in the second half after scoring just two in the first. “Our defense was there, our rebounding was there, we knew that once we started hitting shots the game would start coming to us more.”
It had been a trying 24-hour stretch for the Cavaliers, who had to prepare both mentally and physically for a game without Gylten.
And if anyone was harboring doubts about winning another title in her absence, they weren’t boosted much by a 4-of-20 shooting performance in the first half that left them trailing the Orioles 18-14.
CLASS A ROUNDUP: Third-quarter cold spell dooms Vermillion against Webster
“We weren’t making shots, that part had to change,” said STM coach Brandon Kandolin. “If the score is only 18-14, the defense must be working. We had to figure out ways to score. Somebody had to focus and step up.”
What followed was a third-quarter burst from St. Thomas More that changed everything.
Less than three minutes into the second half, the Cavs had erased a the four-point deficit and swapped it for a 21-18 lead provided by two inside shots from Duffy and a Jayden Bies 3-pointer. Bies followed with another 3-pointer two minutes later and a young and talented Oriole squad that counts two talented freshmen and a sophomore among its top players — was not able to answer.
“They shot the ball very well coming out of halftime – I think they hit their first six shots,” Lennox coach Dan DeVries said. “At the same time we did not shoot the ball very well. They made a run and we couldn’t battle back.”
The Cavs led 31-23 at the end of the third quarter after outscoring the Orioles 17-5 over those eight minutes and stayed out of immediate danger thereafter thanks to a defense that continually put the Orioles in spots where shooting was uncomfortable.
STM hit 9-of-17 from the field after intermission. The 6-1 Duffy, who sat out almost eight minutes in the first half with two fouls, was the inside force the Cavaliers were missing early.
“We had two or three set plays we had coming out that we wanted to try and we were three- for-three to start it,” Kandolin said. “It was a huge start and it kicked off everything else for everybody.”
With the outcome no longer in doubt in the last 10 seconds, Kandolin called a time out and put Gylten, who had a heavily bandaged knee, in the game. She’d arrived to the bench on crutches so it was purely a ceremonial gesture, but it made a point the team wanted to make.
“Yesterday when it happened, I think everyone was kind of shocked,” Duffy said. “We didn’t really come to terms with it. But having a day to mull it over in our brains we knew it was going to be difficult without her because she is such a great player and a great facilitator. We were going to do this for her and I think we came out and represented Dru as best we could.”
The Orioles, who lost just one game to a South Dakota team during the season prior to Saturday, got 13 points from Rianna Fillipi, a ninth grader, and 13 from Riley Peters, a sophomore. Madysen Vlastuin, also a freshman, added eight.
“Now they know what it tastes like,” DeVries said. “Now they have something to work for. When you get to a state tournament you want to build on what you got coming up.”
Follow Mick Garry on Twitter at @MickGarry .
The teams are selected by the South Dakota Basketball Coaches Association.
• Class A — Dru Gylten, Jayden Bies and Aislinn Duffy, St. Thomas More; Rianna Fillipi, Madysen Vlaustuin and Riley Peters, Lennox; Haley Rithmiller, Webster Area; Kasey Jensen, Vermillion; Lexi Wadsworth, Hamlin; Jessi Giles, Madison; Jayda Knuppe, Dell Rapids and Paula Yellow Boy, Little Wound. Spirit of Su: Janay Jumping Eagle, Little Wound. Spirit of Six: Madison.
• CLASS B — Racquel Wientjes and Chloe Lamb, Sully Buttes; Myah Selland and Kayla Olson, Sanborn Central-Woonsocket; Rachel Hawkins and Kacey Bartscher, Ethan; Laurie Rogers, Warner; Jaedyn Finkbeiner and Brianna Phillipsen, New Underwood; Lauren Hunstad, Parker; Cheylee Nagel, Avon and Loryn Schoelerman, Timber Lake. Spirit of Su: Myah Selland, Sanborn Central-Woonsocket; Spirit of Six: Ethan.
Megan Hinker 0-4 0-0 0, Tiffany Plimpton 0-0 0-0 0, Jenna Bruns 0-0 0-0 0, Madysen Vlastuin 1-11 5-6 8, Abbie Strasser 0-1 1-2 1, Gracie Bowers 0-0 0-0 0, Katie Daugherty 0-0 0-0 0, Riley Peters 4-11 3-3 13, Courtney Weeldreyer 0-4 0-0 0, Bailey Nelson 0-0 0-0 0, Rianna Fillipi 3-4 5-5 13, Leslie Fillipi 0-0 0-0 0, Jordan Kruse 0-0 1-2 1. Totals 8-35 15-18 36
St. Thomas More
Jayden Bies 3-11 4-6 13, Dru Gylten 0-0 0-0 0, Kayla Jacobson 0-1 2-2 2, Klaire Kirsch 1-7 6-13 8, Alex Kandolin 2-5 4-4 8, Tintin Almqvist 0-1 0-1 0, Ashley Wojcik 0-2 0-0 0, Aislinn Duffy 7-10 2-2 16, Ciara Benson 0-0 0-0 0, Haleigh Timmer 0-0 0-0 0, Bailee Robbins 0-0 0-0 0, Morgan Gorman 0-0 0-0 0, Meg Carlson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 13-37 18-28 47
Lennox 10 8 5 13 36
STM 7 7 17 16 47
3-pt FG: LEN 5-19 (Hinker 0-4, Vlastuin 1-3, Peters 2-5, Weeldreyer 0-4, Fillipi 2-3), STM 3-13 (Bies 3-7, Kirsch 0-3, Kandolin 0-2, Wojcik 0-1). Rebounds: LEN 25 (Vlastuin 9), STM 33 (Bies 7, Wojcik 7). Fouls LEN 21, STM 17. Fouled out: Kruse Wojcik . Technical: none. Assists: LEN 3 (Strasser 1, Peters 1, Nelson 1), STM 8 (Kandolin 4). Steals: LEN 4 (Peters 2, Fillipi 2), STM 10 (Kirsch 4). Blocked shots: LEN 1 (Nelson 1), STM 3 (Bies 2). Turnovers: LEN 18, STM 11.