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Titans move past Beavers in battle of top teams

ALEXANDRIA -- In a test between the No. 2 girls basketball teams in both Class A and Class B, the bigger team in both student enrollment and size on the court won out.

Mount Vernon/Plankinton's Erin Denning (22) attempts a 3-point shot during the second half of the Titans' game at Hanson on Monday night in Alexandria. Defending for Hanson is Brooke Slaba (3). (Marcus Traxler/Republic)
Mount Vernon/Plankinton's Erin Denning (22) attempts a 3-point shot during the second half of the Titans' game at Hanson on Monday night in Alexandria. Defending for Hanson is Brooke Slaba (3). (Marcus Traxler/Republic)

ALEXANDRIA - In a test between the No. 2 girls basketball teams in both Class A and Class B, the bigger team in both student enrollment and size on the court won out.

Behind 31 points and 16 rebounds from standout center Megan Bultsma and a 50 percent shooting night, the Mount Vernon/Plankinton Titans powered past Hanson 55-44 in a game featuring state title contenders in their respective classes in Alexandria.

Both teams came away from the meeting Monday night with the belief that the late-season meeting was the perfect tuneup for the postseason.

"It's a real important win. It does a lot for us in the region and puts us in a position to be the No. 1 seed," said MVP coach Bill Marquardt. "(Hanson) exposed some troubles. We haven't had issues with pressure all year, and they got after us pretty good."

The win puts the Titans (16-1) at the top of a hotly contested Region 5A, where McCook Central/Montrose (16-2), West Central (13-5) and Wagner (14-4) are close behind MVP. The top seed in the region gets a bye into the semifinals.

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Meanwhile for Hanson (16-4), which was within six points with 4:30 remaining in the game, it's a game that they can take forward into the playoffs. Three of the Beavers' four losses this season have been to Class A teams, specifically MVP, MCM and Wagner.

"That's a great team," Hanson coach Jim Bridge said of the Titans. "That's a team that can win the Class A tournament. ... I'm proud of my kids. We didn't roll over and die. They're a measuring stick and if you can walk away from this game and feel good about the way you played, that's not an 'L' for a loss. That was an 'L' for learning."

The Titans constructed an early 10-1 lead in the opposition's gym, before the Beavers rallied at the end of the quarter to trim it to 14-11, thanks in part to two Ashley Moe 3-pointers.

In the second quarter, Bultsma did the bulk of the damage. She made seven field goals and scored 15 of the Titans' 17 points in the quarter to stretch the lead to eight points at halftime. Bultsma made 14 field goals and almost all of them came from inside the paint, where the undersized Beavers had no answer for the 6-foot-3 talent.

"I don't know how you stop her," Bridge said. "She's improved so much, she's so good down low and she keeps the ball above her head. It's impossible really to stop her, especially with her size."

Bultsma, who regularly faced double teams, said her teammates did a good job of being patient in getting her the ball and knocking down shots when they had a perimeter look. Point guard Payleen O'Day had 11 points for the Titans in the win.

"It opens it up and brings the defense out, when they attack," she said. "We just try to move the ball around and get a 1-on-1 look, whether that's for me inside or someone else on our team."

The Beavers managed to stay in the game in the second half, in part due to their press, forcing steals and causing issues for the Titans in the backcourt. Nevertheless, when MVP broke through, they had open looks for Bultsma and others.

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"It was good to see Payleen and Ivy (Haines) step up tonight because they probably haven't had the offensive seasons they would like to have," Marquardt said. "They both did some things tonight to help their game and make plays off the dribble. That's good for us to have moving forward."

Makaela Karst balanced the Titans with nine points, seven rebounds and five assists in the win. MVP made 22-of-44 field goals in the game and was 7-of-8 on free throws.

Hanson shot 17-of-43 from the field and made 3-of-8 free throws. They were outrebounded 37-15 on the glass. Ashley Moe was the Beavers' leading scorer, scoring 16 points aided by four 3-pointers. Hanson's Kynedi Cheeseman had nine points and five rebounds. Brooke Slaba had four steals for the Beavers.

The two teams will return to their respective classes and handle the runup to the playoffs in drastically different ways. Hanson is off until the district tournament, which starts in a week at the Corn Palace. MVP will play three times this week to close out the regular season, starting with Bon Homme today in Mount Vernon. Parkston visits the Titans on Thursday in Mount Vernon before MVP comes to Mitchell on Friday to play Mitchell Christian.

"We're going to have to pace ourselves and rest as much as we can," Marquardt said. "To start it off with an intense, grueling, physically exhausting game like this but since we got a win tonight, we'll have a smile and go forward with confidence."

MVP 14 31 46 55

Hanson 11 23 36 44

Scoring:

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Mount Vernon/Plankinton: Megan Bultsma 31, Payleen O'Day 11, Makaela Karst 9, Ivy Haines 4.

Hanson: Ashley Moe 16, Kynedi Cheeseman 9, Heather Kayser 7, Hannah Marquardt 6, Brooke Slaba 4, Allison Bahmuller 2.

Traxler is the assistant editor and sports editor for the Mitchell Republic. He's worked for the newspaper since 2014 and has covered a wide variety of topics. He can be reached at mtraxler@mitchellrepublic.com.
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