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Lake City's Taylor Koller (23) puts up a shot in traffic during Monday's non-conference game against Ellsworth at Ellsworth High School. Koller scored a game-high 24 points in the Tigers' 58-52 victory.

Girls Basketball: Lake City holds off late Ellsworth charge

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ELLSWORTH - With Lake City bolting out to a 21-9 lead after the first quarter, Ellsworth looked like it was going to spend the next three quarters licking its wounds against the Tigers' inside duo of Taylor Koller and Madi Green. The duo accounted for 18 first-quarter points.

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"We were firing right away," said Tigers head coach Candace Olstad. "We were getting to our posts, no problem."

Said Ellsworth head coach John Kleppe, "At the end of that quarter, I said to the girls, 'You look scared. Get in their face and get after them.'"

Over the next three quarters, the Panthers responded, coming back from a 12-point deficit to take a 46-45 lead with 3 minutes, 26 seconds left in the game. But in the end, the Tigers were able to hang on, leaving with a 58-52 road victory.

"I guess that was kind of a lucky win, I don't know," said Koller, who had 24 points and 12 rebounds in the win. "We did not play good at all."

Things have been a struggle for the Panthers on the way to a 1-11 record. But after Monday's loss, Kleppe couldn't help but admire his team for showing the tenacity to come back against Lake City. Aiding Ellsworth's comeback effort was 17 offensive rebounds and 20 Tiger turnovers.

For a team coming off a tough loss, the Panthers came out of the locker room upbeat.

"We got some momentum and we thought we could pull it off there," said Panthers sophomore Kelsey Betthauser.

After the clumsy first quarter, Ellsworth scored the first five points of the second, and the defense took the inside game away as the Tigers were outscored 16-7 in the second frame as Lake City held a slim 28-25 halftime lead.

"They were really focused on Madi and I since we hit so many shots at the start," Koller said. "Our guards were having a harder time."

"We really tried to play tight defense along the wings so they couldn't pass it in front of the post," said Betthauser, who finished with seven points.

The Panthers' momentum continued in the second half as Hayley Stoesz hit a jumper and Tacia Kuhl scored a layup off a steal to give Ellsworth a 29-28 lead. Lake City was finally able to work back inside, scoring seven of the last 10 points in the third quarter for a 41-37 lead.

Ellsworth started to dial in from deep in the fourth as a jumper by Edin Hines and two 3-pointers from Kuhl gave the Panthers a 46-45 lead with 3:26 remaining.

"I said to them (at halftime), 'Be on the attack,'" Kleppe said. "When we start sitting back and waiting for things, that's when we turn it over, that's when we get the quarters when we only score four points. But if we get on our toes and get after it, things open up. We can be a pretty good ball team."

Following Kuhl's bucket, an infuriated Tigers team called timeout.

"We just said, 'Enough is enough,'" Olstad said. "'We have to get a stop on defense, we have to get a rebound and we cannot turn it over.' ... These girls want to win as bad as I do."

Following the break, Lake City jumped out to a 7-0 run, including a steal by Koller that set up Cronin for a layup to put Lake City up 48-46 with under three minutes to play. The Tigers (14-8) never trailed for the rest of the game.

"I read the girls' eyes," Koller said of the steal. "They kept passing to the high post area, so I saw it and thought, 'Oh yeah, I'm getting it.' Then I saw Bailey and got it to her since she hits layups all the time."

Green finished with 14 points for Lake City, and Gates added eight points, six assists and four steals. Cronin tallied seven points and nine assists in the victory.

Emily Wilbur had eight for Ellsworth, and Rebecca Matzek added seven in the loss.

"There were a few times where if the shots fell, it'd be a complete different ball game," Kleppe said. "They were right on the edge. I told the team after the game, 'That's all I can ask. Be there with a chance to win it at the end of the game.'"

The Tigers resume play Hiawatha Valley League Blue Division play today, hosting Zumbrota-Mazeppa. The Panthers are back in Middle Border Conference action Thursday at Osceola.

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Joe Brown
Joe Brown is the sports editor for the Red Wing Republican Eagle. Previously, he worked at the Marshall Independent and the St. Cloud Times. For updates on local sports, follow Joe on Twitter at @RE_JBrown.
(651) 301-7878
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