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Some comebacks are accomplished quickly, with an offensive explosion creating a flurry of points.

St. Mary’s took another route, with a rally fueled by defense, which built slowly and steadily over the course of the second half on Tuesday night.

The No. 3-ranked Saints stunned No. 1-ranked Century 39-38 at the St. Mary’s gym, erasing a 14-point first-half deficit and wiping out a seven-point halftime margin by locking down on defense and chipping away possession by possession.

Century scored seven of the game’s first nine points, and even after St. Mary’s pulled within one early, the Patriots controlled the first half. With Lauren Ware scoring 11 first-half points, Century used a 17-6 run to build a 24-10 lead.

The Patriots led the whole first half, but St. Mary’s trimmed the deficit in half by the intermission, pulling within six points before going into the locker room down 30-23.

“We just wanted to chop at it one basket at a time, keep our poise, try not to get too fast-paced,” Saints coach Shannon Copas said. “We like to go fast but in a game like this, that’s what they want to do is get you out of your element. We said that if that happens, we need to take a step back and keep doing what we want to do and what we want to accomplish, and I think we did that.”

Defense fueled the Saints’ second-half comeback.

“We told them at the beginning of the game, they are going to make their run,” Copas said. “We had to be poised and stay the course. We got back into position to make it a game right before halftime and you have to give credit to both teams – a 39-38 game, that’s unbelievable. That’s a lot of good defense.”

The Saints crawled back into the game, scoring the first four points of the second half to pull within 30-27.

Lilly Keplin’s layup gave Century a 32-27 lead, but that basket – which came with 13:20 left in the second half – was the Patriots’ only scoring during a stretch of more than 14 minutes.

“We just really wanted to win our own battle,” Copas said. “Ware is so good at finding the person that’s open if you double her, so we really wanted to stay home and make her work for her points and see where it went from there.”

The Saints harassed Century into shooting 32 percent (12 for 37) from the field and committing 30 turnovers. Century shot 25 percent (2-for-13, with both makes in the first half) from 3-point range. The Patriots managed just three field goals and eight points in the second half.

Ware fouled out with just under four minutes to go with a game-high 11 points and seven rebounds.

St. Mary’s was struggling offensively as well. The Saints shot 29 percent from the field (14 for 48) and went 0-for-7 from 3-point range. St. Mary’s managed just five field goals in the second half.

“They play such good defense,” Copas said. “They push you out, get you on the outside of the 3-point line and it’s hard to get your offense initiated. We called a few things, hoping to get some back doors, that kind of thing, and a couple of those worked for us, which were very timely.”

St. Mary’s reeled off 10 consecutive points over a stretch of eight-plus minutes to finally push ahead.

Marriann Senftner drove the lane and finished to tie it at 32-32 with 7:03 remaining. St. Mary’s took the lead on Elizabeth Preszler’s jumper at 6:13. Abby Kopp hit a pair of free throws and Syndey Smith went 1-for-2 from the line to make it 37-32 Saints with 3:54 to go.

Century answered with a runner from Amber Domres and a layup from Chloe Markovic to pull within 37-36 with 2:30 left.

Kaitlyn Wanner – who scored all six of her points in the second half – hit a jumper to make it 39-36 with 2:10 left.

Two free throws by Markovic made it a one-point game with 56 seconds to go, and the Patriots had two chances at a game-winner in the closing seconds but St. Mary’s hung on for the win.

Senftner finished with 10 points to lead the Saints (17-4, 15-3 West Region). Tonya Dvorak and Smith each finished with seven points.

Ware finished with 11 points and seven rebounds and Keplin had nine points for Century (20-1, 17-1 West Region).

The Patriots will be the No. 1 seed and the Saints the No. 2 seed for the West Region tournament next week at the Event Center.

“This is a huge win going into WDA,” Copas said. “It builds your confidence with each and every win but for these girls, this is a big one.”

Century 83, St. Mary’s 46

Kade Amundson scored 16 of his game-high 26 points in the first half, helping Century jump out to a big lead in a victory over St. Mary’s in their regular-season finale.

The No. 2-ranked Patriots raced out to a 42-15 halftime lead and cruised in finishing the regular season at 19-2, 16-2 in the West Region. Century will be the No. 1 seed for next week’s West Region tournament.

Kade Lynch added 16 points and Josh Sipes 14 for Century.

Luke Kambeitz scored 21 points to pace the Saints (6-15, 5-13 West Region). The No. 7 seed Saints will host No. 10 Williston on Friday at 6:30 p.m. in one of two West Region play-in games. No. 9 Turtle Mountain travels to No. 8 Dickinson in Friday’s other play-in.

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