Koepsell, MCM take down Miller
Morgan Koepsell got angry.
At least that's how Miller head coach Aaron Zeller described the play of McCook Central/Montrose's 6-foot-2 senior in the second half of Thursday's night state-qualifying game.
Koepsell led McCook Central/Montrose's second-half charge and finished with a game-high 29 points in a 59-47 win over Miller in a Round of 16 playoff game at the Corn Palace in Mitchell.
MCM (20-2) trailed by five points at halftime but exploded for 36 points in the second half to power past a scrappy, 14-seeded Miller Rustler team.
Koepsell, a Black Hills State signee, and the Fighting Cougars had previously finished one game shy of the state tournament two of the past three seasons.
Zeller and Miller watched as Koepsell scored 19 points in the second half, including 10 in the fourth quarter.
"Their big girls played amazing and their size inside is unbelievable," Zeller said. "That's why they are successful."
MCM's second-half comeback began in the third quarter, as the Fighting Cougars started the frame on a 6-1 spurt to tie the contest at 29. Miller regained the lead, but MCM answered back for a 41-40 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
That's where Koepsell took over. Trailing 44-43, Koepsell had two old-fashioned three-point plays to headline a 10-0 run by the Fighting Cougars, putting them ahead 53-44 with roughly 4 minutes remaining.
"I've been playing for a long time and I haven't been able to pull it off. It feels so great," Koepsell said. "We did not come to play in the first half. We had a lot of heart to come back, and we pulled it off."
The Rustlers knocked the MCM lead down to eight points, but the Fighting Cougars did enough to keep any late Miller rally at bay. After trailing 16-9 at the end of the first quarter and 28-23 at halftime, MCM head coach Doug Durfee said his team made a defensive adjustment to keep the ball away from Miller's top two scorers. Durfee pointed out Miller's VonnaGail Schlecter had 14 points and Kadye Fernholz had 12 points in the first half. Schlechter and Fernholz each finished the game with 15 points.
"We made the effort to shut them down and defense always propels you into offense, so we really focused on the defense," Durfee said. "We forced the other girls to try and beat us. (Fernholz) picked up her third foul early in the third quarter and we pounded it inside against their second- and third-stringers a little bit."
Along with Koepsell, Natalie Gottlob added 12 points, while Morgan Erickson tossed in six points. After falling to Madison in the Round of 16 last year, Durfee said he was proud of his team for reaching the state tournament.
"It's such a relief. We've been so close," Durfee said. "To get over this hump is just awesome."
MCM takes on No. 6 Aberdeen Roncalli in the first round of the Class A state tournament at 7:45 p.m. Thursday in Watertown.
M 16 28 40 47
MCM 9 23 41 59
Miller (14-9): Erin Moncur 9, VonnaGail Schlecter 15, Abby Ketelhut 2, Kadye Fernholz 15, Annie Keeter 6.
McCook Central/Montrose (20-2): Morgan Koepsell 29, Natalie Gottlob 12, Morgan Erickson 6, Madison Koepsell 4, Jacy Pulse 2, Abigail Van Ruler 2.