EVANSVILLE—Maria Messling hit the shot Tuesday night that kept Evansville’s girls basketball season alive.
The Blue Devils beat a scrappy Beloit Turner team 34-32 with the last-minute bucket in a Division 3 WIAA girls basketball regional game Tuesday night.
It was a hard-fought win for the Blue Devils (16-9), who struggled from the field against a tough Trojans defense.
The smaller Trojans (9-16) crowded the paint and made sure the 6-foot Messling didn’t get easy looks at the basket.
Turner was able to force several turnovers on passes into the paint, and midway through the first period, Evansville held just an 11-10 lead.
Luckily for the Blue Devils, their defense was also effective and kept the Trojans from creating any momentum in the first half.
“We knew that we had to really defend their pick and rolls well, whether it be hedging or playing them straight up,” said Evansville coach Tony Wiemiller said. “We did a great job of that in the first half. They only got about one or two good looks off of it. We locked them up a little bit. I was really proud of Jer’Novia Hermanson and Brooklyn Maves for how they played up top. They were just a nuisance.”
While its defense kept Evansville in the contest in the first half, it would take Messling on offense to get the Blue Devils rolling. The Blue Devils kept feeding Messling inside, but with Turner crowding her with double teams in the post, she was forced to find open teammates on the perimeter.
Evansville was cold from deep throughout, so it fell to Messling to lead her team to a strong first-half finish. She scored 13 of her 20 points in the first half and made her presence known with her offensive rebounding, tough finishes while draped by Turner defenders and her soft touch near the rim.
“She is the total package,” Wiemiller said. “She can bring the ball up the court, she can pop the 3, she can hit the midrange shot and then she can post up. She’s so strong from that left side with her left hand. She was a difference maker tonight.”
Evansville held a two-point lead entering the second half, but the Blue Devils continued to struggle from the field, and the Trojans quickly capitalized.
Tied at 23, Turner’s Jayla Hodges split a pair of free throws, missing the second. The Trojans grabbed that rebound, and Nadilee Fernandez hit a 3-pointer at the top of the key, giving Turner a quick 27-23 lead.
Trying to get back on the board, Evansville pushed in transition and tried to force passes, leading to turnovers for Turner.
After a few Turner misses, Messling got the ball in the post and hit a turnaround shot to stop the bleeding. On the next possession, the Blue Devils stole the ball, and forward Molly Hanson hit a corner 3 to claim a 28-27 lead for her team.
The Trojans took the lead back after a turnover. Fernandez had the ball in transition but opted to slow down and set up an offensive set that resulted in an easy layup for Portia Segerstrom.
After another Evansville miss, Fernandez attacked the basket on Turner’s next possession and made a layup to give the Trojans a 31-28 edge.
Evansville’s Jer’Novia Hermanson knocked down a 3-pointer to tie the game again, and on Turner’s next possession, Hodges drew another foul and again split her foul shots to forge a 32-31 lead.
Messling stepped up yet again for the Blue Devils with 1 minute remaining in the game. She hit a midrange shot over two Turner defenders to give the Blue Devils a lead. Evansville blocked Turner’s next shot and hit a free throw after getting intentionally fouled, sealing its 34-32 victory.
“It’s exciting for me to be able to take that role, but I feel like my teammates also helped me out,” Messling said. “When Molly hit that shot after we hadn’t scored for a while, that was huge. Jer’Novia hitting that 3-pointer, that was really huge, too. I feel like I needed that momentum to keep me going.”
It was a tough way to end the season for the Trojans after losing to Evansville for the third time this season. While the loss stings, the Trojans made Evansville uncomfortable and showed maturity during the final stretch of the contest.
“Our message in the locker room was that you can be disappointed and a loss like this hurts because our kids played our tails off,” Turner coach Nick Faralli said. “We asked them just to leave it out there for 36 minutes and we’ll see what the scoreboard says. You can be proud of your effort in defeat and that’s exactly what we are. We’re proud of our kids. They gave us everything that they had. They executed the game plan the way that we wanted it to be executed. Unfortunately, we just didn’t get a couple of shots to fall at the end.”
After its win, Evansville will travel to Edgerton to play the Crimson Tide, the No. 3 team in Division 3, at 7 p.m. Friday in the hopes of claiming another regional win and springing an upset over its Rock Valley rival.
“I’m glad we left all of our misses on the floor tonight,” Wiemiller said. “Jer’Novia is our lockdown defender, and it’s going to be a nice little matchup for her. The first time that we played Edgerton, it was a game that we know we can play against him. Second time, we didn’t have Maria. So now the matchups are there, and I like our advantage. If we play the way that we can play, then it’s going to be a fun night.”
EVANSVILLE 34, BELOIT TURNER 32
Evansville (34)—Maves 0-1-1, Hermanson 2-1-6, Messling 8-3-20, Hanson 1-0-3, Dobbs 1-0-2, Vogl 1-0-2. Totals 13-5-34.
Turner (32)—Segerstrom 2-2-7, House 1-0-2, Fernandez 1-1-4, Kramer 0-1-1, Babilius 4-1-10, Hodges 2-2-8. Totals 11-7-32.
Halftime—E 20-18. 3-point goals—E 3 (Hermanson, Messling, Hanson), BT 3 (Segerstrom, Fernandez, Babilius). Missed free throws—E 6, BT 9. Team fouls—E 16, BT 17.