Loyola downs GHEC for crown

ST. PETER – Rick Theuninck has redefined the term “youth movement” on the prep hardwood court.

The Mankato Loyola head girls basketball coach’s roster contains three eighth-graders, including sharpshooting starting guard Lindsey Theuninck, along with key reserves RaeAnn Dose and Elizabeth Ninneman.

Lindsey Theuninck tallied a team-leading co-high 13 points, while Ninneman and Dose combined with junior post player Annie Nawrocki to generate 26 points off the Crusaders’ bench to pace a 59-42 victory over the Granada-Huntley-East Chain Mustangs during Wednesday’s Section 2A, South Sub-Section championship in St. Peter.

Mankato Loyola (25-3) advances to play North Sub-Section champion Lester Prairie/Holy Trinity (23-5) at 6 p.m. Friday at the Taylor Center on the Minnesota State University, Mankato campus for the sectional crown and a Class A state tournament bid. LP/HT reached the Section 2A finals via a 55-46 victory over Minnesota Valley Lutheran.

Granada-Huntley-East Chain ended its successful campaign with an 18-8 record.

Ironically, Mustang mentor Rick Uttech utilized a youth movement of his own – 5-foot-11 freshman center Rachel Shumski – along with senior point forward Amanda Cegelske to only trail by one at intermission.

Down 17-13 on the heels of Nawrocki’s low-post conversion off one of Aunikah Bastian’s game-high six assists, Cegelske snapped the Lund Center’s nylon nets with a 3-pointer from the right corner to narrow GHEC’s gap to 17-16 with 1:34 left before halftime.

Bastian, who chipped in 10 points, later converted a one-and-one situation at the 18-second mark to restore a three-point Crusader edge before Shumski cleaned the offensive boards to earn a pair of charity tosses with only 1.2 seconds showing.

Cegelske, who generated a game-leading 18 points to close out her stellar prep career, reeled off seven consecutive points on the heels of Lindsey Theuninck’s second half-opening pull-up 15-footer to stake the Mustangs to a 26-22 lead with 15:40 remaining in regulation.

Cegelske earned two free throws before converting half of Shumski’s team-best four assists for back-to-back baskets – a low-post leaner and a left-corner trey, respectively.

Shumski, who neared double-double territory by scoring 13 points to complement a game-best eight rebounds, later converted a Cegelske assist for a baseline banker to give GHEC what would prove to be its last lead at 28-26 with 14 minutes to go.

The Crusaders’ talented eighth-grade tandem of Lindsey Theuninck and Dose packed the most punch during the No. 1 seed’s ensuing 19-4 offensive surge to put the game out of reach.

Lindsey Theuninck swooshed a 3-pointer off a Jordyn Theuninck assist to trigger the run before Nawrocki tossed in two of her team-best co-leading 13 points. Dose then nailed a pull-up 12-footer to widen Loyola’s lead to 33-28 and forced Uttech to call timeout at the 11:34 mark.

Jordyn Strachan converted Bastian’s penetrate-and-kick pass into a low-post bucket out of the short recess before Shumski countered with a baseline basket for the Mustangs at the 9:44 juncture.

Nawrocki, however, hit a putback basket before Dose intercepted a backcourt pass, hit the layup, drew the foul and converted the traditional 3-point play to quickly extend Loyola’s lead to 40-30.

Cegelske countered by scooping home a runner in traffic, but Dose drained a right-corner 3 before Lindsey Theuninck pocketed a steal and went the distance for the layup to widen the Crusaders’ lead to 45-32 with 8:12 remaining in the game.

Cegelske delivered four free throws, Anna Balcom added a pair of charity tosses and Rachael Sauck sank a 3-pointer down the stretch for GHEC, but it was to no avail.

Nawrocki added a team-leading seven rebounds to her 13-point performance off of the Crusaders’ bench, Dose scored eight points, while Ninneman chipped in five points.