It’s pretty much a given in basketball. When the shots aren’t falling everything looks bad.

So it went with Mandan in a 61-49 loss at St. Mary’s Thursday night in a showdown between two ranked girls basketball teams.

Third-ranked and unbeaten Mandan boys previaled 97-61 in the boys game.

The girls game was much more of a battle than the final score would indicate. For over two minutes the contest was knotted at 42. Mandan missed a field goal attempt, two free throws and turned the ball over three times in that span, and the Saints turned the ball over and missed two shots from the field.

Once Tonya Dvorak gave St. Mary’s a 45-42 lead with a 3-pointer with 6:35 to play, however, the Saints were on top to stay.

Mandan cut the deficit to 47-46 on a free throw by Kennedy Harris with 4:10 remaining, but at that point St. Mary’s asserted itself.

A 7-0 run built on five free throws and a driving basket by Taylor Gerving put the Saints in command 54-46 with 1:17 to play. During that span the visiting Braves missed six shots and turned the ball over twice.

In a nutshell, that decisive run typified Mandan’s night. The Braves shot just 29 percent (20-for-70) and turned the ball over 21 times.

“You just have off shooting nights from the field and, unfortunately, this was one of those nights for us,” Mandan coach Abby Thomas said. “We’re seldom under 50 points. We have a lot of offensive threats, and our book had us 3-for-16 from the free throw line.”

Mandan got off to a wretched start, digging itself a 20-8 hole in the first eight minutes. The Braves righted the ship at that point and took a 29-28 lead late in the first half before Kaitlyn Wanner’s layup put the Saints up 30-29 at halftime.

The second half featured three ties and four lead changes before the Saints took the lead for keeps at 45-42.

St. Mary’s coach Shannon Copas gave his team kudos for the way it played once it assumed the lead with over 6 minutes to go.

“We’ve really been focusing on playing with the lead and allowing ourselves to dictate the game,” Copas said. “Our girls were able to get through the Mandan run, settle down and get back to our game.”

St. Mary’s entered the contest ranked second in the state Class A girls poll. Mandan was No. 5. Copas said such matchups can only make the Saints a better team as the season plays out.

“This was a tough battle. It was definitely one of those we need to be in,” he said.

Gerving, a 5-foot-7 junior, was the Saints’ offensive pacesetter with 21 points and pulled down seven rebounds, as well. She said beating another ranked team was a sign of team growth.

“This was a big game. It definitely builds our confidence,” she said. “But it’s still early in the season. Our next game is with (top-ranked) Century, so we’ve got to focus on that.”

Gerving said Mandan never let the Saints get comfortable.

“We needed to come out in the second half and work hard,” she said.

St. Mary’s didn’t exactly light it up, sinking 21 of 54 shots for 39 percent.

Kennedy Harris, a 5-5 junior guard, scored 22 points for Mandan to lead all scorers. She was the only Braves player in double figures.

Behind Gerving in the St. Mary’s offensive effort came senior guard Sydney Smith with 12 points. Dvorak and Wanner added 10 each.

Both teams struggled at the free-throw line, Mandan connecting on just three of 16 and St. Mary’s converting 13 of 25. Rebounding was essentially a standoff. Megan Zander, a 5-10 junior, nabbed 14 caroms for Mandan, which eked out a 49-46 edge on the boards. Wanner, a 6-foot senior, yanked down 14 rebounds for St. Mary’s.

Thomas said Mandan’s main shortcoming was on the offensive end of the floor.

“Holding St. Mary’s to 61 is not a bad night. I was pretty happy with the defensive effort for the most part,” she said.

Mandan 97, St. Mary's 61

Trae Steckler, a 6-4 senior post, was the dynamo behind Mandan's one-sided victory over St. Mary's, scoring 29 points and grabbing 11 rebounds in 23 minutes of work.

Mandan took control early, jumping away to a 24-9 lead and opening a 40-29 halftime advantage. The final 36-point advantage was Mandan's biggest lead of the night.

Camren Steckler added 15 points for the winning Braves, while Jaxton Wiest and Elijah Klein added 14 apiece. With Camren Steckler grabbing 16 rebounds, the Braves controlled the boards 59-23.

Cole Gendreau reached double figures for St. Mary's with 17 points.

With the victory, Mandan improved to 8-0, 5-0 in the West Region. St. Mary's stands 0-5 and 0-8.

"It's been a good start to the season, but we need to get better each day," Mandan coach Brandon Schafer said. "... We've got to keep grinding it out. Everyone is finding a way to contribute, and that's great to see."

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