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Buckaroos take down 3A power Burns, defeat hosting Crusaders in bracket championship

PMG PHOTO: PHIL HAWKINS - The St. Paul Buckaroos were able to survive against No. 3 Burns despite senior captain Erin Counts picking up four early fouls and sitting out most of the third quarter. The Bucks beat the Hilanders 56-49 and went on to win the Green Bracket at the Crusader Classic on Saturday.The St. Paul girls basketball team continues to meet difficult tests head-on this season, and each time passes them with flying colors.

Over the weekend at the Crusader Classic New Year's Invitational, the Buckaroos found themselves on the reverse side of an eight-point swing against 3A No. 3 Burns. Going from up four to down four while losing captain and lead ball-handler Erin Counts to her fourth foul, the Bucks had every opportunity to throw in the towel.

Instead, the team rose to the occasion.

St. Paul went on a run to retake the lead in the third quarter and went on to win 54-49. The Bucks followed on Saturday with a 48-29 win over the hosting Salem Academy Crusaders to win the Green Bracket championship and head back into their league schedule at a perfect 12-0.

"It was really shocking," head coach Dave Matlock said. "I was really pleased with that because that is something we haven't had to see yet. But for us to fight through — and all the other girls to step up – that was really music to my ears.

PMG PHOTO: PHIL HAWKINS - St. Paul senior Isabelle Wyss led the Buckaroos with 18 points against Burns and 13 against Salem Academy."You might have a situation like that again and you know that you can survive it."

While Matlock has been at the helm of each of St. Paul's current 43-game win streak spanning three different seasons, his team continues to find new ways to surprise him.

"Our girls always seem to find a way to fight through adversity and fatigue," Matlock said. "A lot of teams would have (given up), but they kept fighting and fighting, and they got their second wind."

Against a Burns team that had lost just once before Friday's bracket semifinal, the Bucks scored 35 points in the second half to pull away with perhaps their biggest win of the season. As if to punctuate the victory, Counts went 7-of-10 from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter when she returned to the game and finished with 16 overall.

Fellow senior captain Isabelle Wyss led the team with 16, while junior Mary Davidson scored 14 — the three of which accounted for all but six of the Bucks' points in the win.

"That was really a big win," Matlock said. "They threw the kitchen sink at us and vice versa."

In the championship game against Salem Academy, the Bucks took a 19-1 lead after the first quarter, allowing Matlock some liberty to turn to his reserves and younger players to see how long they could maintain the lead. The Crusaders were able to scratch back to within 35-26 in the fourth quarter before the Bucks went on a 13-3 lead to finish the game.

PMG PHOTO: PHIL HAWKINS - St. Paul junior Mary Davidson scored in double digits in the final two games of the tournament, netting 14 and 13 points against Salem Academy and Burns, respectively."That's kind of where you try to find out who can get through those minutes and who struggles in minutes like that, because it teaches you how deep you can go," Matlock said.

Once again, it was Wyss, Counts and Davidson leading the charge, scoring 13, 12 and 12 points, respectively. But the game allowed Matlock further opportunity to see how the team runs without his core offensive players on the court — relying on a platoon of senior Diana Hernandez and freshmen Annabelle Davidson and Frankie Lear to share ball-handling duties.

"Diana is the most experienced one, but I want to train those younger girls to embrace that moment as well," he said.

The No. 1 Buckaroos (12-0, 2-0 Casco) were scheduled to return to league play on Tuesday at home against the Oregon School for the Deaf before traveling to Jewell on Friday.


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