AHS shooting for state berth

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 7, 2003

The spacious surroundings at the Mayo Civic Center's Taylor Arena wreak havoc on those unfamiliar with playing basketball there. The Austin girls' basketball team, on the brink of bringing home its first Section 1 championship since 1976, hope the experience of last Saturday's semifinal win will eliminate any doubts.

Fifth-ranked Austin (21-4) meets Winona (14-10) in the Section 1AAA finals Friday night at 6:30 p.m. for the rights to a state tournament berth. The Winhawks are winners of eight of their last 10, while AHS is 9-for-10 in the same stretch.

Neither team shot well from the field in last weekend's eventual semifinal victories, and top-seeded Austin hopes having one game under its belt will do the trick.

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"We had a lot of chippy shots we missed that we shouldn't have," Packer coach Gary Peterson said after Saturday's 57-42 win over New Prague. "But getting a game on this court better help us for Friday."

"It's a longer court," said senior guard Amy Kelly. "We practiced at Riverland, but it's just different shooting in here.

"We know Winona's going to be tough."

Third-seeded Winona outlasted Faribault 39-32 despite a mediocre free-throw shooting performance. The Winhawks shoot 58 percent from the line as a team with only one player -- senior guard Stacey Cichosz -- above 61 percent. Cichosz nets 77 percent of her free-throws but is the fifth-leading scorer for Winona.

The Winhawks will be led by senior center Betsy Tasca, who at 6-1 is the tallest player in the section. Tasca averages 11.5 points per game despite persistent foul trouble and a 54 percent free-throw ratio.

"Tasca hurt us the first game really bad," Kelly said. "Defense is definitely the key. I think we can score."

Winona averages 46 points per game, while the Packers average 57 points per game and allow 45.

"We need to come out and really get after it," Peterson said.

Junior forward Lisa Bue leads Austin's offensive attack at 16.9 points per game, averaging 21.8 over the last five. Bue has scored 20 or more 11 times, including 26 in three of the last five games.

Kelly is second on the team with 12.1 points per game, including the high game of the season with 28 against Minneapolis Edison.

"They have a physical team," Peterson said. "I think our girls know that we've got to be ready. Hopefully we got used to playing on this court."

Austin defeated the Winhawks by scores of 49-45 and 50-43 in two Big Nine Conference clashes.

"Playing a league opponent three times, you never know what's going to happen," said AHS assistant coach Jeff Hovland.

Winona has played its best basketball the second half of the season, while it's difficult to measure Austin's best. The Packers won 11 games in a row during the regular season and have scored 70 points or more four times.

The winner will play the champions out of Section 2 in Tuesday's state quarterfinal match at the Midwest Wireless Center in Mankato. Top-ranked Willmar meets No. 8 Hutchinson in the Section 2 final tonight at 7 p.m. at Minnesota State University in Mankato.

Probable starters:


Brittney ErichsonSr.5-63.5

Amy KellySr.5-712.1

Lisa BueJr.5-1016.8

Laura GeffertJr.5-9 5.9

Steph EslingerSr.5-119.7


Leigh RodgersSr.5-85.7

Shannon WingSr.5-108.5

Jessica StoltzSr.5-106.5

Stacey CichoszSr.5-105.5

Betsy TascaSr.6-111.5