Vesel scores 25 as Packer girls hold off Cougars

Published 9:22 am Sunday, February 16, 2014

Austin's Ruth Koang spins to the basket during the first half against Mankato East Saturday night in Ove Berven Gym. Eric Johnson/

Austin’s Ruth Koang spins to the basket during the first half against Mankato East Saturday night in Ove Berven Gym. Eric Johnson/

Austin sophomore Shayley Vesel went on a scoring flurry and the Packer girls basketball team made some clutch free throws as they edged out Mankato East 57-54 in Ove Berven Gym Saturday.

Austin shot 73 percent from the line in the win and it went 9-for-12 on free throws in the last two minutes as the Cougars started intentionally fouling early on.

“They fouled us quickly and considering the last time we played them I don’t think we shot fifty percent on free throws, I thought [their coach] had a pretty good strategy,” Austin head coach Todd Johnson said. “The kids stepped up and all of them knocked down free throws. We gutted this one out.”

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The Packers (7-12 overall, 5-9 Big Nine) lost to the Cougars (10-11 overall, 7-8 Big Nine) had lost in overtime earlier this season, partly due to their struggles from the line. On Saturday, it gave Austin a big boost when it went two-for-two on three straight one-and-one situations at the free throw line late in the game.

“Our stress level went down a lot,” said Vesel. “Our free throws were great.”

Vesel finished with a career-high 25 points in the win and she added five rebounds. She put in array of shots around the lane and her biggest score of the night came when she absorbed contact from a defender and flipped up an under-hand layup to put Austin up 44-40 with 5:10 left in the game. That shot stopped a 5-0 spurt by the Cougars that had slimmed Austin’s lead.

“Shayley and I look for each other down low,” said Austin center Mer Gach, who had 11 points. “If she’s open, we get it to her, because we know she’s going to make it.”

Johnson said Vesel has made some big strides this season and it has helped the Packers win three of their last five games.

“Shayley is probably the most improved player on our team this year,” Johnson said. “She’s changed the way she’s played and she’s really starting to shine. Now it’s not just Mer and that opens it up for everybody else. That’s huge for us.”

The Cougars kept the pressure on Austin down the stretch, but the Packers finally could breathe when East’s Claire Ziegler was called for an offensive foul with 26 seconds left and Austin leading 55-52.

“That was nice, because she was doing that all game and they didn’t call it,” Gach said.

Austin forced 23 turnovers in the win.

East 25 29 – 54

Austin 27 30 – 57

Austin scoring: Shayley Vesel, 25; Mer Gach, 11; Alex Hansen, 8; Sydney Murphy, 4; Merideth Fritz, 4; Jaidyn Bastian, 3; Ruth Koang, 2; free throws: 73 percent (19-for-26); rebounds: 25 (Alex Hansen, 5; Gach, 5); turnovers: 16