No. 8 L/E/M hunting for consistent, stable attack as postseason nears
There was a lot of hype building up to Friday night throughout the season. It was senior night, the Cardinals' final home game of the regular season and it was against the Spoilers. The last time these two squads faced off was in the Class B title game last March, awarding L/E/M the only basketball state title of the 2019-20 season.
Grafton has only lost two games this season, sitting at No. 3 in the state, while the Cardinals, who are still rolling at No. 8, we're coming off their first regional loss since 2017, falling to Four Winds/Minnewaukan on Monday. L/E/M wanted to build some momentum on a special night and in a rematch of the state title game.
They wanted it so much, it may have hurt them in the end. A mix of overplaying its game and the size and speed of the Spoilers taking advantage of that would cost No. 8 Langdon/Edmore/Munich (13-5, 5-0) the win to No. 3 Grafton (15-2, 9-0), falling to the Spoilers 70-46.
"We got too excited to play them and the girls wanted to play well so bad that they mentally didn't do their jobs and went away from it," Cardinals head coach Rob Scherr said. "Grafton is way too good to start playing that way and they took advantage of that. Our girls got a little too hyper and just forgot to play how we practiced."
The mental lapse came with the team falling out of system at times and playing more individual ball according to Scherr. Where that really hit the Cardinals was on the fast break as the Spoilers would turn on the jets, seeing that L/E/M wasn't getting back fast enough.
Two players who controlled the Spoilers effort on the drive into the paint was sophomore center Walker Demers. The 6-foot-3-inch center, who has heightened her game even more since the state championship last season, scored a team-high eight 2-point field goals on the night for a team second-best 18 points. Scherr said the Cardinals' inside effort to score in response just wasn't clicking Friday.
"Kaylee [Lowery] played decent the second half, but we didn't pass as we normally do inside," Scherr said. "We didn't cut like we normally do. We got out of sync and played too much 1-on-1 and not team ball. Bless their hearts, they wanted to go after it and play well so bad that they didn't relax and do what they were supposed to do."
While the Cardinal were chasing the lead for the entire game, they did see a consistent performance from senior forward Kaylee Lowery, who would finish with a team-high 16 points, off of six 2-point field goals and 4-5 shooting at the free-throw line. Scherr said her effort to cut into the paint, which was a struggling factor throughout the night, was what helped her to a strong finish.
The Spoilers had also made an effort to remove the Cardinals inside the paint, specifically junior forward Morgan Freije. Last season, Callie Ronningen and Kaitlynn Scherr played a major part in getting passes and rebounds to Freije. This season, it's been a little more of an adjustment into the paint as attention has been drawn to the 5-foot-11-inch forward and less on the outside.
It's still an adjustment that not only Freije is making, but so is the rest of the team is playing without the two biggest point makers on the Cardinals roster last season. On Friday, Freije got caught up in the mental pressure as well, leading the Grafton to shut her down under the net.
"She got a little too excited and it hurt herself," Scherr said. "Last year, she had Kaitlynn Scherr one way and Callie Ronningen the other way, who both shot around 44 percent from 3, so Morgan had to reswing, get a pass, drop step, and layup. This season, that's not there for her and sometimes she wants to do so well that when it's not working that she goes beyond the game, which hurts herself. She just needs to sit and relax and have faith that her teammates will take control of things. She's a special kid and wants to do so well."
Getting too deep into their game in ways caused the Cardinals to go back to that system that they had in place last season, except the shooters aren't there now. However, in order to get a similar system working again, L/E/M is looking for different ways to get points and consistent shooters. Scherr said that Frejie is a weapon that they want to continue to use, but they need shooters to help her out.
One of the Cardinals' offensive options who has been on the rise is freshman guard Jaya Henderson, downing 10 points on Friday night. Henderson's efforts have been a strength for L/E/M, but they need even more of an edge and Scherr said he isn't afraid to go all the way down the bench to find that. L/E/M doesn't have much time to adjust as they travel to 12-4 Velva Saturday.
"If we stand around Saturday we're going to get thumped at that's how it should be," Scherr said. "We have to come with an edge and a step, and tomorrow will be a huge thing on this team about what we have. I'm going to go 12 deep if I have to because we need to find who is mentally strong and who is going to do their job."
This is some worry that the Cardinals are asking these kinds of questions so late in the season, but the questions asked don't really have anything to do with skill or physical performance, but mental consistency and finding the right mindset. L/E/M is still a statewide force, who dethroned then No. 1 Kindred at the beginning of the season, and is still a favorite to win Region 4. However, finding a stable attack game in and game out will allow the Cardinals to have an idea of what team will take the court every night.
"We need to find a consistent subbing rotation on our bench," Scherr said. "If someone isn't doing their job then will have someone who will do it coming right off the bench. We're just way too inconsistent game to game. A player will do awesome one game and the next game they'll be hurting us. They're young and will hopefully learn, but they just need to play and quit thinking."
Grafton 70, Langdon/Edmore/Munich 46
No. 3 Grafton - 17, 13, 22, 15 - 70
No. 8 L/E/M - 8, 10, 16, 12 - 46
Grafton (15-2, 9-0) -- C. Sieben 6 0-1 24, Demers 8 2-4 18, C. Sieben 3 0-0 12, Dusek 5 0-0 10, Hauson 0 0-0 3, Erickson 0 0-0 3. Totals 22 2-5 70.
L/E/M (13-5, 5-0) -- Lowery 6 4-5 16, Henderson 3 1-2 10, Freije 3 2-2 8, Pankratz 1 0-0 5, Hetletved 0 0-0 3, Olson 1 0-0 2, Badding 1 0-0 2. Totals 15 7-10 46.
3-pointers: Grafton 8 (C. Sieben 4, C. Sieben 2, Hauson 1, Erickson 1). L/E/M 3 (Hetletved 1, Pankratz 1, Henderson ).