When Rushford-Peterson’s girls basketball team hosted Chatfield on Thursday night, the Gophers were the favorites despite R-P’s home court advantage.
Chatfield came into the game with a 10-4 overall mark that ranks among the best in the Three Rivers Conference, while the Trojans sat in the middle of the pack at 6-6. Sure enough, the Gophers ended up with a convincing 76-57 victory.
However Rushford-Peterson was not intimidated by the difference in records, and the Trojans started the game red hot.
After Chatfield won the opening tip, R-P sophomore Ellie Ekern quickly stole the ball and was fouled as she sank a layup. Following the free throw, the Trojans had a quick three-point lead.
Following an empty Chatfield possession, the Trojans doubled their lead when junior Hannah Ronnenberg hit a three-pointer for a 6-0 lead less than a minute into the game.
About a minute later, Ronnenberg hit another triple for a 9-0 score that forced the Gophers to call a timeout at 16-minutes, 23-seconds.
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In R-P’s prior two losses the Trojans had started slowly, so head coach Joe Hatch was glad to see his players come out of the gate with a bang.
“It was good for us to get a good start, hopefully we can build on that moving forward, starting with confidence,” Hatch said.
The Gophers settled down in their timeout and started playing the way they have all year, going on a 20-2 run over the next seven minutes for a 20-11 score at 9:53.
That lead continued to expand for the rest of the half, and at the break, Chatfield led 36-20.
After their hot start, the Trojans were inconsistent on both ends of the floor, but it was not anything that was particularly surprising for the R-P coaching staff.
“We struggled after that, but we’re playing a really good team, so you’re going to come back to reality a little bit,” Hatch said.
For the first 11 minutes of the second half, the two teams traded buckets one or two at a time, and by the 7:16 mark Chatfield’s lead had only increased by one point up to 17 at 55-38.
The Gophers barely bumped up their lead again in the closing minutes, increasing their tally by two points for a 19-point margin of victory at the final buzzer.
After being outscored by 16 in the first half, the Trojans hung tough with a 40-37 second half in which both team’s starters played the majority of the minutes.
Despite the loss, Hatch was more or less happy with the way the team played, but not so happy with the way the team executed.
“We got a lot of good looks, but we had a hard time finishing around the rim. I was happy with our shot selection overall,” he said.
Chatfield senior Peyton Berg led all scorers with 24 points, followed closely by junior teammate Kara Goetzinger’s 19-point game.
Ekern was R-P’s leading scorer with 18 points, with junior Kaylee Ruberg next with 15 points and Ronnenberg also hitting double digits with 11 points, including a trio of three-pointers.
Only a sophomore, Ekern has been progressing throughout the season thanks to her dedication. Hatch says she stops by school early multiple times per week to get some extra shots in before heading to class.
As a result of all her hard work, Hatch says he has been putting more and more on her plate. Even if she may not feel she is ready to take those steps forward, Hatch can tell she is and her performance Thursday proved his point.
“I’m pretty hard on her a lot of times in the games, trying to make her do more because I’m confident in her ability. Sometimes she gets mad at me for that, but I’ve got to keep challenging her and keep having her improve,” Hatch said.
IN PHOTOS: Cotter girls defeat R-P 73-42
Emarie Jacobson shoots a layup in the lane
Sera Speltz goes up for a layup
Ellie Ekern with the fadeaway jumper over Ava Killian
Brie Papenfuss with the layup
Hudson Kahoun releases the "J"
Ava Killian is defended by Ellie Ekern
Kaylee Ruberg draws the foul
Megan Morgan drives to the basket
Brie Papenfuss shoots a free throw
Ellie Ekern with a contested layup
Sera Speltz draws contact at the rim
Kaylee Ruberg gets open for a layup
Ellie Ekern with the breakaway layup
R-P and Cotter battle for a rebound
Ava Killian lines up a free throw
Ellie Glodowski with the floater in the lane
Kallie Eide defended by Madison Hazelton on the inbounds play
Andrew Tucker can be reached at email@example.com or via Twitter @andrewjtucker16