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Stewartville girls hang on to win drama-drenched state quarterfinal game

Mar. 13—MINNEAPOLIS — Stewartille lost to St. Peter by 31 points on Feb. 6.

Wednesday the teams met again, this time in the Class 3A girls basketball state quarterfinals at the University of Minnesota's Maturi Pavilion.

Final score: No. 5 seed Stewartville 47, No. 4 St. Peter 46.

Safe to say that the Tigers are not remotely the same team now as the one that absorbed that prior St. Peter beatdown. They've become a defensive juggernaut, and it's the best explanation for them having reached the state semifinals for the second straight year.

In its last six games, 22-8 Stewartville has smothered teams to the tune of allowing 42, 31, 37, 44, 51 and now 47 points.

"I'm very proud of our effort today," said first-year Stewartville coach Tanner Teige, whose team traded leads with St. Peter enumerable times Wednesday before really stepping in the last 4 minutes when it rode its most clutch player, senior Savannah Hedin. "We found a way to dig in defensively. We really pride ourselves there, especially the last (six weeks) when we've played the kind of defense that's gotten us to this point."

Stewartville will take those defensive chops into a rematch with No. 1 seed and defending state champion Benilde-St. Margaret's at noon Thursday at Williams Arena. The Red Knights' victim in that 2023 title game was none other than Stewartville.

Hedin is eager for the rematch. Stewartville, which barely lost to Benilde-St. Margaret's in that championship game, also played it once this season, losing 74-48 on Jan. 13. But that was an even longer time ago than that first St. Peter meeting.

"I think we're all excited to play Benilde again," said Hedin, who led her team Wednesday with 15 points, four of them in the final 3:20 and had a massive blocked shot with 2:15 left. "We played them earlier this season. But I just feel like we're so much better now. We're excited to play them because we think we can beat them."

Stewartville, which has won seven straight games, will take a 22-8 record with it. Benilde-St. Margaret's is 25-5.

Stewartville got just enough offense to advance Wednesday. Hedin led the way, including a crucial driving basket with 4:23 left that narrowed the Tigers' deficit to one point, then another driving hoop to put them ahead with 1:30 left. Guard Audrey Shindelar followed that basket by making a 10-foot jumper to put Stewartville up by three points. Shindelar ended the game with 13 points, while forward Taylor Klement had 10 and forward Jaci Rath nine. Rath also finished with a crucial 10 rebounds.

It seemed almost a given that it was Hedin who delivered those two back-to-back clutch makes when Stewartiville needed them most. She's got a reputation for rising up in the biggest moments.

But Hedin said when the ball left her hands both times, anxiety was running through her.

"I was actually really nervous there," Hedin admitted, looking surprised at the feeling. "But I trust my teammates and I knew that if I had to (pass the ball on those two drives), I could kick it out to them."

After Shindelar's bucket, Stewartville hung on for dear life. St. Peter's Abby Maloney connected with a driving hoop with 1 minute left to make it a one-point game.

But Stewartville didn't panic. It relied on its defense after Shindelar barely missed an outside shot with 31 seconds left. There is a great chance that St. Peter tensed up more than the Tigers to close the game. Last year's Stewartville state experience had everything to do with that.

A bunch of confidence was built a year ago by the Tigers.

"Yeah, I just think experience gave us all a lot of confidence," Rath said. "Like, we all kind of know what we are supposed to be doing, obviously. And like the Becker game last year (a dramatic 60-59 Stewartville win in the state semifinals), what happened helps us all stay calm. Yeah, it really helps."

Indeed, it was a calm — albeit intense — final defense stand against St. Peter that finally sent Stewartville into Thursday's semifinals. The Tigers' defenders knew just where to go, leaving the Saints with a desperately flung-up shot to end the game.

St. Peter heads into the consolation bracket with a 27-3 record. Stewartville heads into the state semifinals charging for more.

Box score: Stewartville 47, St. Peter 46