Byron-Stewartville girls basketball showdown pairs teams that know each other well

Mar. 7—ROCHESTER — Byron 56, Stewartville 53. That happened Dec. 4.

Byron 56, Stewartville 50. That happened Feb. 5.

The coaches of those two girls basketball teams, Byron's Ben Pollock and Stewartville's Tanner Teige, aren't putting much stock in either of those prior scores. They're mostly just memories now as the Bears and Tigers ready themselves to face off for a third time, this one with massive consequences.

Whoever wins their Section 1, Class 3A title battle at 8 p.m. Friday at Mayo Civic Arena advances to the state tournament. Byron is looking to get there for the first time since 2017. Stewartville is trying to make back-to-back state trips, though if it gets there, it'll be for just the second time in school history.

Byron is ranked No. 5 in Class 3A and seeded first in the section tournament. Stewartville is ranked 14th and seeded third. It beat No. 2 seed Winona in the semifinals.

But all parties know this: Whoever wins, it will be no shocker.

"After (last) Saturday's game (a 63-50 Byron semifinal win over Kasson-Mantorville), we were thinking about how hard it is to beat a team three times," said Ben Pollock, in his first year as Byron's head coach but fifth with the program. "Plus, this will be an emotional rivalry game (both teams members of the Hiawatha Valley League and their towns just 21 miles apart). These are two teams that know each other well.

"We like how we match up with them with our length and speed. But, unfortunately for us, Stewartville has the same thing."

The teams, who shared the HVL regular-season title, both going 14-2 in the league, are also carbon copies in another way. It's their defense. Both are stifling, especially of late.

Byron is allowing just 45 points per game (scoring 64), Stewartville 50 (scoring 61). Other than allowing sixth-ranked St. Peter 72 points in a one-point overtime Byron win, the Bears have allowed 19, 31, 32, 36, 41 and 50 points in their last seven games. It's helped enable their current 10-game winning streak.

Stewartville has been on a similar defensive rampage. In its last four games, it has allowed 42, 31, 37 and 44 points. That last one was against No. 2 seed Winona, which had been scoring 61 points per game.

Both teams apply full-court pressure, though Byron does that a bit more than Stewartville.

"Byron is aggressive and they've got players who play for each other," Stewartville coach Tanner Teige said. "And then on the offensive side, they have talented weapons. They've got a few kids who can score 20 points on any given night."

Byron gets the bulk of its scoring from junior guard Kendra Harvey and sophomore small forward Madison Ohm. Harvey averages 18 points, 4.7 rebounds, 3 assists and 3.5 steals per game. Ohm's numbers are similar, at 15 points, 5.5 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 2.6 steals per game. Strong and agile center Lexi Nelson averages 9 points and 5.5 rebounds and speedy guard Paige Halder 7.2 points and nearly four steals per game.

Stewartville has just as many weapons on both ends of the floor. Sophomore guard Audrey Shindelar jumps out most, the 5-foot-11 sharpshooter averaging 16.4 points on deadly 53% accuracy. She's also good for 4 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals per game for the No. 14-ranked Tigers.

But this is a well-rounded team. Senior forwards Taylor Klement and Savannah Hedin average 14 and 13 points, respectively, and Jayci Rath eight points. Klement is also good for eight rebounds per game, Rath eight and Hedin six.

Stewartville, which has taken on one of the toughest schedules in the state, having played a horde of top-10 ranked teams from each of the four classes, is playing its best basketball right now. All the more reason to take those two previous losses to Byron and toss those memories away.

Tigers coach Teige says his team is exactly where it needs to be.

"We are playing our best right now," Teige said. "That is always the goal. The buy-in we've had has been great. We are really starting to understand the importance of the details on the defensive end."