Strong fourth quarter helps Wagner move past Tea Area to Class A state tournament

The Red Raiders took a six-point lead to the fourth quarter but opened up the final frame on a 14-2 run as they took down the Titans on Thursday, claiming a spot in the Class A state tournament.

Wagner's Shalayne Nagel (20) and Eve Zephier hug after defeating Tea Area in the Class A SoDak 16 state qualifier game on Thursday, March 2, 2023, at the Corn Palace.
Adam Thury / Mitchell Republic

MITCHELL — For every run Wagner went on, Tea Area had an answer — until the last one.

The Red Raiders took a six-point lead to the fourth quarter but opened up the final frame on a 14-2 run as they took down the Titans, 72-52 on Thursday at the Corn Palace, claiming a spot in the Class A state tournament.

Second-seeded Wagner ultimately outscored No. 15 Tea Area 22-8 in the fourth quarter to pull away for the win.

“We dominated in the fourth quarter and that just shows a testament to our girls' conditioning,” Wagner head coach Mike Koupal said.

The Red Raiders made a point to consistently work the ball down low. Koupal said Wagner knew coming in it had mismatches on Tea Area’s guards in the paint and that his team took advantage of it. Emma Yost was the main recipient of the passes down low and she cashed in time and again.


The senior racked up 30 points on 11-for-18 shooting — all of which came inside the 3-point line. She added 11 rebounds and seven assists in the win.

It wasn’t smooth sailing for the Red Raiders the entire time, though. After opening up an 11-1 start, Tea Area charged back, cutting the deficit to five at one point. Wagner made another run to spread its lead in the early part of the third quarter, opening the half on a 13-3 run. But the Titans once again countered and outscored the Red Raiders 14-4 to close out the third quarter and sent the game to the fourth with Wagner leading 50-44.

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Wagner defeated Tea Area, 72-52 and Ethan took down Corsica-Stickney, 34-31.

“(We were) being complacent,” Koupal said of what led to the third-quarter charge from Tea Area. “We weren't going and meeting our passes. We got lazy, they got three run outs that scored easy points.”

But in the fourth quarter, the Red Raiders got back to what had been working all night long for them.

Wagner shot 74.2% (23 of 31) from inside the 3-point line, only putting up 11 3-pointers and connecting on four of them. The lack of 3-pointers was a bit of a stray from the norm, according to Koupal.

Most of Wagner’s looks from behind the arc came as the result of a pass out from down low, but exploiting the advantage it had down low was the top priority.

“We really didn’t take very many shots from the perimeter (Thursday night). … Usually we shoot anywhere from 16 to 20,” Koupal said. “We knew we had mismatches inside on their guards and we took advantage of that.”

Only six players took the floor for Wagner, even amid foul trouble. Shalayne Nagel recorded 15 points and Macy Koupal chipped in 12, as well as eight assists. Wagner shot 64.3% (27 of 42) from the field and assisted on 23 of its 27 made field goals.


For Tea, Mara Grant had a team-best 14 points, while Ellie Clayberg and South Dakota State commit Katie Vasecka each added 11.

“I thought we did an excellent job on Grant and Vasecka,” Mike Koupal said.

Wagner heads to the Class A state tournament at 22-1 and is the No. 2 seed, slated to take on Rapid City Christian in the first round on Thursday, March 9.

“This was a tough road,” Mike Koupal said of Thursday’s contest. “To be a No. 2 seed, you wouldn't think you'd have to work this hard. … This is a testament to these girls on how they're working. Last year when we got to the state tournament, we were complacent. And we preached all year that if you want something good to happen, nobody's going to give it to you. And we worked for it and we worked for it this game.”

Zech Lambert is a sports reporter for the Mitchell Republic. He graduated from Penn State University in May 2022 and began at the Mitchell Republic in July 2022. He can be reached at or on Twitter @Zech_Lambert.
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