SHULLSBURG – For the past four seasons, it was two towns, one team. This year, it became two towns, two teams. On Thursday night, there could be only one winner.
In their first head-to-head meeting since the Six Rivers Conference broke up their co-op, the #9-ranked Shullsburg Miners defeated the visiting Benton Zephyrs, 56-50, in a friendly but hard-fought and emotional Six Rivers West showdown at SHS on Dec. 22.
Sophomore center Brianna Leahy posted a double-double in the second half alone, pouring in 15 points and pulling down 11 rebounds over the final 18 minutes of play to rally the unbeaten Lady Miners (8-0 overall, 3-0 SRW) past her friends and former teammates on the Zephyrs (7-3, 2-2).
“Any one who knows me knows I’m an emotional guy. This is as difficult a game as I’ve had to be a part of personally,” said Shullsburg head coach Nathan Russell, who also coached the co-op the past four seasons. “Luckily, I got a good group of kids here who were able to compartmentalize it better than their coach was. A credit to the kids. We were teammates before and we can still be friends afterwards, but once the game started you have to compete. That’s the mentality we went with tonight.”
The Miners took an early 18-10 lead on a 3-pointer by junior guard Hattie Rennert midway through the first half. The Zephyrs came charging back with an 11-2 run to grab a brief 21-20 advantage, taking the lead on a putback by sophomore Emma Lawrence.
Shullsburg regained the lead before the intermission and were up 28-26 heading into the locker room at the half.
Benton came out firing early in the second half and scored nine unanswered points to go on top 35-28. Senior guard Montanna Burmeister shot the Zephyrs into the lead with a quick trey, while forward Kayla Dougherty added two baskets and Lawrence sank another to put the guests ahead by seven.
The Miners answered back with a 9-0 run of their own to take the lead back from the Zephyrs. Leahy scored seven of their points with a pair of baskets and 3-of-4 shooting from the foul line to put them ahead 37-35.
“We knew we had a distinct advantage down low, and we were going to try and feed that,” admitted Russell. “We got away from that in the early part of the second half, then I went a little ballistic during a timeout and I thought we did a much better job after that of getting back to where our bread is buttered.”
Burmeister sandwiched a pair of 3-pointers around a trey by Shullsburg’s McKailah Strang to put Benton ahead 46-42 with 5:33 remaining, but the Miners used back-to-back 3s by Nicole Teutschmann and Rennert and a putback by Leahy to grab the lead back at 50-46 with 3:30 to play.
Leahy added a basket and two more free throws to extend the lead to six with under two minutes remaining, and junior guard Cora Holland’s break-away layup with 26 seconds to go sealed the victory for the Miners.
Leahy finished with a game-high 24 points and she recorded 17 rebounds along with four blocked shots and three steals.
Senior forward Paige Hauser scored all 10 of her points in the first half for the Miners. Rennert chipped in with eight points, four assists and two steals.
Strang added six rebounds and Holland dished out three assists, while sophomore Kindle Cook tallied five assists and five boards in the victory.
Dougherty led the Zephyrs with 12 points. Burmeister and Lawrence netted 11 points apiece, and senior guard Payton Bastian added six points against her former coach and teammates.
“It was a battle until the end. Nobody would give up the lead for very long,” said Benton head coach Lisa Lawrence, who was an assistant coach with the co-op. “None of the girls on the floor wanted to lose. We knew that from working with them over the last four years.”
Next up for Shullsburg is a non-conference game at Darlington on Monday, Jan. 4, at 7:30 p.m.
Benton……… 26 24 – 50
Shullsburg… 28 28 – 56
Benton – Ally Jansen 3, Montanna Burmeister 11, Emma Lawrence 11, Paige Murphy 3, Lily Carver 4, Kayla Dougherty 12, Payton Bastian 6. Totals – 20 5-7 50.
Shullsburg – Faith Ubersox 2, Kindle Cook 2, McKailah Strang 3, Hattie Rennert 8, Paige Hauser 10, Nicole Teutschmann 2, Brianna Leahy 24, Cora Holland 4. Totals – 21 10-16 56.
3-point goals– B 5 (Jansen 1, Burmeister 3, Murphy 1), S 4 (Strang 1, Rennert 2, Teutschmann 1). Total fouls– B na, S 7.