ST. PAUL — Spalding/Spalding Academy never led Fullerton by more than two points in Thursday’s Goldenrod Conference Tournament semifinals.
Thanks to big play after big play from Kelsie Leslie over the final 40 seconds, that didn’t matter.
The Class D-2 No. 10-rated Knights downed the Warriors 33-32 in a defensive battle.
In the final 40 seconds, Leslie hit the game-tying basket, sank the front end of a 1-and-1 after a steal and keep Fullerton from getting anything off besides a desperation 25-footer at the buzzer.
And she did that after picking up her fourth foul in the third quarter.
"She’s a phenomenal athlete, probably one of the better girl athletes I’ve seen anywhere," Spalding/Spalding Academy coach Seth Flanagan said of the senior. "Her lateral quickness is so big. She’s been a girl who has been in and out of the program a little bit, but she’s really embraced these younger girls.
"It was a huge performance. I couldn’t be prouder of her. She really needed that for her confidence."
Fullerton (7-5) led 32-28 midway through the fourth quarter after a Macy Peregrine basket but never scored again.
Erin Stevens pulled the Knights (7-7) within 32-30 with 3:12 to go, then the teams started trading turnovers.
Leslie ended the scoreless stretch with a baseline runner to tie the game with 40 seconds to go.
She then got a steal and was fouled to keep her from breaking away for an uncontested layup. Leslie sank the front end of a 1-and-1 to give the Knights only their fourth lead of the game with 14.4 seconds left.
Fullerton took a timeout with 12.8 seconds before bringing the ball up the court. But Leslie stuck on Jolene Shotkoski on the perimeter, and an off-balance 25-footer missed the mark at the buzzer.
"We kept our composure a little bit," Flanagan said. "We were in foul trouble and things weren’t really going our way offensively. They’re a much stronger team than we were.
"But I told our kids going into the game that we need to be positive, we’ve got to keep our attitude up and we need to find a way to fight through. We’re a scrappy team, and we found a way."
Fullerton coach Stacy Kramer said mistakes caught up with her team in the final period.
"It’s kind of a heartbreaking loss," she said. "We didn’t handle the press as well as we should have. Spalding/Spalding Academy did a good job of playing the passing lanes, and we didn’t take care of the ball as well as we should have.
"They changed the tempo of the game and played their game as opposed to us playing our game. We missed some simple, simple shots under our hoop."
The teams exited a choppy first half tied at 19. The teams combined for 25 turnovers and 21 free throws prior to halftime.
Fullerton quickly jumped out to a 23-19 lead in the third quarter.
"We did a little better reversing the ball and looking inside instead of forcing shots," Kramer said. "We did better when we’d do a give-and-go with our low players.
"We just couldn’t stay focused enough to keep doing that. They took us out of our game a little bit with their defense. They do a good job of pushing the tempo."
The Knights answered with a 6-0 run after a timeout, but Fullerton came back with its own 7-1 run to take a 30-26 lead with 4:58 left in the game.
Stevens led Spalding/Spalding Academy with nine points. Leslie added seven while Erin Bloom had six points and 10 rebounds.
Peregrine topped Fullerton with 16 points and 17 rebounds. She was just one rebound short of recording her double-double in the first half.
Kramer said her team learned some hard lessons in the loss.
"It’ll be a tough one for them," she said. "All you hope when you get in these close games is that you win some and you lose some. The next time we get into these situations, we’ll be a little better prepared.
"We’ve got a young group. We’ve got two seniors and three sophomores. We’re missing our first player off the bench who was home with the flu, my 6-foot player (Halle Blumbtree), so we lost all our height. I had to adjust to that and play some girls who weren’t used to playing."
Fullerton faces Palmer in Saturday’s 2:30 p.m. consolation game while the Knights move on to battle Class D-1 No. 6 Humphrey St. Francis in Saturday’s 6 p.m. championship.
Flanagan said Spalding/Spalding Academy must cut down on its 23 turnovers.
"We have to limit a lot of the mental mistakes we made," he said. "We had a lot of turnovers that we can’t afford against St. Francis. They’re a well-coached team. Bryan (Reichmuth) is a great coach, and he has been for a long time. It’s a great program.
"They’ve got some big girls that worry me a little bit because we’re undersized. We’ve got to do a great job checking out. We’re excited to be here. We won six games last year, and we lost four starters off that team. Now we’re playing in the Goldenrod Conference championship."
FULLERTON (7-5): Steenson 3-10 0-2 6, Peregrine 5-9 6-6 16, Frenzen 0-5 2-3 2, Shotkoski 3-8 1-3 8, Herman 0-4 0-2 0, Ostrander 0-5 0-0 0. Totals 11-41 9-16 32.
SPALDING/SA (7-7): Bloom 1-9 4-7 6, Berger 2-11 1-2 5, Carraher 1-5 1-2 3, Haschke 1-1 0-0 2, Stevens 4-9 1-2 9, Schmeits 0-3 1-2 1, Herley 0-1 0-0 0, Leslie 3-9 1-2 7. Totals 12-48 9-17 33.
Fullerton ......................... 12 7 8 5—32
Spalding/SA ................... 7 12 6 8—33
3-point field goals—Fullerton 1-5 (Ostrander 0-1, Frenzen 0-1, Shotkoski 1-3), S/SA 0-7 (Bloom 0-1, Berger 0-3, Stevens 0-3). Fouled out—Bloom. Rebounds—Fullerton 40 (Peregrine 17), S/SA 36 (Bloom 10). Assists—Fullerton 3 (Shotkoski 2), S/SA 1. Turnovers—Fullerton 28, S/SA 28. Total fouls—Fullerton 17, S/SA 14. Technicals—none.
Humphrey SF 53, Palmer 43
Class D-1 No. 6-rated Humphrey St. Francis held Palmer to one basket over the first 7:36 of the fourth quarter to pull away for a 53-43 win Thursday in the Goldenrod Conference Tournament semifinals.
The Flyers (15-2) trailed the Tigers 34-33 late in the third quarter until Maggie McPhillips’ shot rolled in off the rim at the buzzer.
That helped spark a 9-0 run that gave St. Francis a 42-34 lead with 3:55 left.
"We found a little more energy, and we went to a 1-3-1 (zone defense) right at the start of the fourth," Humphrey St. Francis coach Bryan Reichmuth said. "We got some deflections.
"Maybe they didn’t recognize we were in the 1-3-1 right away, but it was a big fourth quarter coming out with energy. We got some tips, hit a shot, then they went man. We got a shot out of that, and it was a big quarter for us."
Kara Valasek’s basket with 3:11 left resulted in Palmer’s only points in the fourth until Cortney Wichmann sank two free throws with 46.3 seconds remaining.
"We took a lot of shots from outside," Palmer coach Rob Wegner said. "They were sagging in on us, and we had hurt them a little bit inside. They forced us to shoot out there, and shots weren’t falling."
The Tigers went 3-for-16 (18.8 percent) from the floor in the fourth quarter after shooting 38.7 percent over the first three periods.
"I was pleased with the way we were playing," Wegner said of the first three quarters. "We had some trouble boxing out once in a while. We didn’t get into the lane as much as we wanted to. We like getting in there and giving ourselves a shot at shooting a lot of free throws. We didn’t attack the hoop the way I thought we could.
"They had us out of balance a little bit on offense. It was one of those nights. We thought we had things going, and then shots weren’t falling."
Jacey Olmer scored half of her 14 points in the fourth quarter for the Flyers. Kaitlynn Sjuts added 11 points and Christa Brockhaus had 10.
Jessie Valasek topped Palmer with 14 points. Kara Valasek added 11 points and 13 rebounds before fouling out with 2:09 to go.
PALMER (10-4): Tibbetts 2-4 0-0 5, Wolfe 1-10 4-6 6, J. Valasek 5-18 1-2 14, Wichmann 1-4 2-2 4, K. Valasek 5-8 1-2 11, Potter 0-0 0-0 0, Thede 1-3 0-0 3, Glause 0-0 0-0 0, Ward 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 15-47 8-12 43.
HUMPHREY ST. FRANCIS (15-2): McPhillips 3-10 2-2 9, Olmer 4-13 4-8 14, Podliska 2-5 0-0 4, Brockhaus 3-7 4-6 10, Bender 1-5 2-3 5, Sjuts 4-5 3-5 11. Totals 17-45 15-24 53.
Palmer .................................... 10 13 11 9—43
Humphrey SF ......................... 11 15 9 18—53
3-point field goals—Palmer 5-16 (Tibbetts 1-2, Thede 1-1, Wolfe 0-3, J. Valasek 3-10), HSF 4-15 (McPhillips 1-3, Olmer 2-8, Brockhaus 0-1, Bender 1-3). Fouled out—K. Valasek, Brockhaus. Rebounds—Palmer 38 (K. Valasek 13), HSF 30 (Brockhaus 8). Assists—Palmer 4 (Wolfe 4), HSF 8. Turnovers—Palmer 10, HSF 5. Total fouls—Palmer 18, HSF 15. Technicals—none.