The Braham girls basketball squad’s season came to a close with a cold stretch down the final minutes in a 39-36 loss to North top-seed Annandale in the March 11 Section 5AA semifinals at St. Michael-Albertville H.S. The loss halted the Bombers’ five-year run of reaching the State tourney as they finished a fine season with a 23-5 overall mark.
The first half was a tightly-called affair where turnovers stacked up for both sides and ended with the Cardinals leading 21-18. The Bombers jumped out to a 10-4 edge when Kayla Nickles and Jenna Winter popped three-pointers, Jaclyn Hollenkamp scored off an offensive board, and Nickles finished off a steal with a layup.
The Cardinals’ deployed their 6’2” senior center, Hannah Spaulding, to limit Braham scoring chances inside the lane, and she finished the night with a healthy amount of swats. Spaulding scored seven points in the half to go with her defensive play.
The Cardinals’ lead grew to 25-18 in the early minutes of the second half, then the Bombers forced three straight turnovers and the offense began to find openings. After two Nickles’ free throws, an Angie Bendickson tie-up led to a Hollenkamp field goal. Braham kept rolling when Nickles turned a steal into two more converted free throws, then she lit up from outside with three straight ‘3s’ which propelled the Bombers to a 36-27 advantage and forced a Cardinal time-out with 8:05 remaining.
Spaulding got past the tight defense by Hollenkamp to score her last field goal of the night next for Annandale, and Emma Atkinson’s points had the Cardinals working back to within 36-35. Meanwhile, Braham missed three front-ends in a row, and the Cardinals retook a 38-36 edge with a make-shift three-point play off a made free throw and a score off the ensuing miss with 1:10 left.
Following a Cardinal turnover with 18.6 to go, Braham ran a nice inside/outside play which set up Nickles from the arc, but the shot just wouldn’t drop. Emmy Whitesell’s free throw with 2.9 seconds left created the final difference.
“Annandale’s really solid. I thought they played pretty physical defensively, and they got away with it. Our youth, at times, really showed. I thought we were athletic enough to keep up with them. They were older and more physical with us, and we kind of ended up backing down from that,” said Bomber Coach Tim Malone. “In the end, our Achilles’ heel all year has been free throws and layups. I’m not sure we made enough free throws and layups to beat a really good Annandale team.”
The post-game time on the court was a tearful goodbye for Bomber senior guards Nickles (22 points) and Winter (6 points).
“Lots of guts by both our senior leaders. We probably wouldn’t be here without either one of them,” described Coach Malone. “It’s the tail end of a fantastic career for both of them. They put in a lot of time over the summer. I thought they fought; I thought they gave us everything they had.”
• The Cardinals (16-11) get South No. 1 seed Howard Lake-Waverly (24-2) in the March 14 section finals at SCSU. The Lakers tore it up from outside to defeat Watertown-Mayer 66-41 in the first semifinals Tuesday night at STMA.
Two wins to start playoffs
Braham began its first season in the new section by defeating Maple Lake 62-47 at home March 7. The Bombers attacked the middle well while going on a 9-2 run to close the first half and beginning the second half with a 15-3 run.
At St. Michael on Saturday, Braham defeated Foley 55-39 in the 5AA quarters after taking a 31-19 lead at the half. Hollenkamp (18), Winter (17) and Nickles (13) led in scoring again, with additional points coming from Lizzie Altendorf (4), Bendickson (2) and Steph Braund (1).