First-half 3-point barrage sends Howard past Wessington Springs, into Class B girls state tournament
"When you shoot that well from 3, I just stand there and watch at that point,” said Tigers' coach Wade Erickson.
HURON — Wade Erickson couldn’t have scripted a better first half for his Howard girls basketball program.
Powered by white-hot 3-point shooting and a suffocating defense, sixth-seeded Howard rolled past 11-seed Wessington Springs 61-40 in the Class B SoDak 16 at the Huron Arena.
With the win, the Tigers (19-4) are headed to the state tournament for the fifth time in program history and the second since a Class A runner-up finish in 1995. Howard’s other appearance during the past 28 seasons came in 2020 when the tournament was cut short after the first day due to COVID-19.
“This is all we thought about last year after getting beat in the SoDak 16,” said Howard senior forward Kate Connor. “We knew we had to do something this year, especially with five returning starters and four seniors.”
After some early nerves from both sides and nearly three minutes without a field goal to start, Howard’s shooters came alive.
A pair of 3s from Trinity Palmquist and another from Canyon Kidd push the Tigers out to an 11-1 lead after one quarter. Two more triples from Dakota Spader and the first of three straight by Rylee Rudebusch pushed the Tigers’ lead to 20-1, when Carissa Scheel recorded the first field goal of the night for the Spartans at the 5:40 mark of the second quarter.
By the time either Connor or frontcourt-mate Abby Aslesen — Howard’s two leading scorers, accounting for an average of nearly 32 points per game — made their first scoreboard contribution, the Tigers were ahead 28-3 on the way to a 33-7 halftime score.
“It was so exciting, it’s so good to look up at the stats board and see everyone scoring,” Connor said. “When we came out and everyone was hitting, we knew we were playing our best team basketball game.”
In the first half, Howard was 12-of-29 (41.4%) from the field, but 9-for-14 (64.3%) from 3-point range. At the same time, the Spartans were limited to 3-of-25 (12%) overall and 0-for-10 from distance.
“I can tell you I did not script that at all,” Erickson said. “Our game typically goes inside, then outside and our 3s come off of a post touch and kick-out. They were doing a great job on our posts and we couldn’t get anything down there. Those shooters stepped up and they were hitting. When you shoot that well from 3, I just stand there and watch at that point.”
“It was almost unbelievable how they kept knocking down 3s,” added Springs coach Jason Kolousek. “We knew we had to take away their inside girls (Connor and Aslesen) and so they’d have open looks, but we never thought they’d knock them down like that. And then on top of that, we just couldn’t make a bucket.”
Springs doubled its first-half output in the opening 75 seconds of the second half and got the margin down to 17 points late in the third, but two more Tiger 3s put the score back to 46-23 entering the final eight minutes.
“I’m very proud of our girls’ second-half effort,” Kolousek said. “We could’ve just said, ‘This is it,’ but we came out and fought. It was just too big of a lead to cut into.”
Rudebusch led the Tigers with 13 points on the night, while Spader dropped in 11. Aslesen and Palmquist had 10 points apiece, with Aslesen adding team-highs with seven rebounds and four assists.
For Wessington Springs (16-7), Scheel had 13 points and nine rebounds, and Kirstie Munsen chipped in 10 points and eight rebounds. The Spartans’ leading scorer, Avery Orth at more than 15 points per game, was keyed in on by Howard’s defense and was held to six points, all in the second half.
“We were pretty nervous back in the locker room, but Wade kept telling us, ‘It’s all right to have nerves, just be confident,’” Connor said. “We knew we had to come out with intensity and we did just that. We took it to 'em.”
Howard will play defending state champion Viborg-Hurley, the No. 3 seed, in the state quarterfinals Thursday, March 9, back at the Huron Arena.