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No. 1 Wagner withstands late push to down Winner, advance to Class A state tournament

Red Raiders are headed to the state tournament for the first time since 2009

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Wagner's Shalayne Nagel (20) goes up for a shot in the lane between four Winner defenders, including Kelsey Sachtjen (30), during the first half of a girls SoDak 16 basketball contest on Thursday, March 3, 2022, at the Corn Palace.
Landon Dierks / Mitchell Republic
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MITCHELL — It wasn’t always pretty, but in the end, it didn’t have to be for No. 1 Wagner to punch its ticket to the Class A state tournament.

Behind a strong third-quarter effort, the top-seeded Red Raiders built a 13-point cushion it used to hold off a late rally from No. 16 seed Winner, coming out of a defensive battle with a 36-33 victory in a SoDak 16 state-qualifying contest Thursday night at the Corn Palace.

“I think our defense was amazing,” said Wagner junior forward Emma Yost. “On the offensive end, we weren’t that great, but defensively we got it done — 33 points we gave up, 11 in the first half, that’s pretty good.”

Both teams settled into a defense-dominated opening half, with the game tied at 8-8 after the first quarter. Wagner edged ahead 16-11 going into the break powered by 10 combined first-half points from Shalayne Nagel and Emma Yost, but it was the third quarter where the top seed made its biggest move.

Out of halftime, the Red Raiders started to pull away, holding the Warriors to fewer than eight points for the third-straight quarter on its way to a 28-17 lead entering the final frame. Wagner made it 30-17 early in the fourth quarter and looked poised to put the game out of reach, but the Warriors had designs on a different ending.

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Led by 12 fourth-quarter points from senior guard and Kansas basketball commit Bella Swedlund, Winner mounted a furious attempt at a rally over the final seven minutes. The Warriors pulled within four points on three occasions in the final 92 seconds, but timely free-throw shooting allowed the Red Raiders to clinch their first state tournament appearance since 2009.

“We didn’t play with a lot of emotion tonight, some of us,” said Wagner coach Mike Koupal. “I don’t know if that was the panic button, but you have to learn from these close games. We’ve been in close games this year and people step up to the challenge. That’s the good thing about this team right now, it could be someone different every night. People step up, they make big shots and make big defensive plays and we did that tonight.”

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Winner's Bella Swedlund (23) fights for a rebound between Wagner's Shalayne Nagel (20) and Macy Koupal (30) during the second half of a girls SoDak 16 basketball contest on Thursday, March 3, 2022, at the Corn Palace.
Landon Dierks / Mitchell Republic

Nagel paced the Red Raiders with 13 points to go with five rebounds and three assists, while Ashlyn Koupal dropped in 11 points — all in the second half, including four late free throws — to help Wagner secure the victory. Emma Yost added six points, all scored in the middle two quarters, and seven rebounds, with Macy Koupal and Lydia Yost each tossing in a 3-pointer to round out Wagner’s scoring. Lydia Yost also pulled down a game-high 10 rebounds, as Wagner out-rebounded Winner 33 to 18. The Red Raiders also converted 14 of 31 shot attempts for a mark of 45.2% but were hindered by 25 turnovers.

Swedlund scored a game-high 18 points along with three rebounds and four steals to lead the Warriors. Kelsey Sachtjen and Ellie Brozik each chipped in six points, with Sachtjen tacking on five rebounds and Brozik swiping five steals. Winner (14-9) won the turnover battle, giving the ball away just eight times, but was held to 10 of 44 (22.7%) shooting in the loss.

Wagner (21-1) will face No. 8 Red Cloud (20-2) in the quarterfinals after the Crusaders knocked out No. 9 Florence/Henry, 50-44, Thursday night in Fort Pierre.

Dierks covers prep and collegiate athletics across the Mitchell Republic's coverage region area, focusing on Mitchell High School football and boys basketball and area high school football, volleyball and basketball, as well as Dakota Wesleyan women's basketball. He was also the lead on the Mitchell Republic Gridiron Spotlight, producing video and providing live play-by-play for the traveling weekly prep football broadcast during its first season in the fall of 2021. Dierks is a Mitchell native who graduated from South Dakota State University with his bachelor's degree in journalism in May 2020. He joined the Mitchell Republic sports staff in August 2021. He can be reached at ldierks@mitchellrepublic.com and found on Twitter at @LDierksy.
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