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Spartran rally comes up short

Fifteen seniors played in the final regular season game of their high school careers Friday night when the Superior High School girls basketball team played the Rice Lake Warriors in Superior. Of the large group of seniors, 11 were Warriors.

Fifteen seniors played in the final regular season game of their high school careers Friday night when the Superior High School girls basketball team played the Rice Lake Warriors in Superior. Of the large group of seniors, 11 were Warriors.

"This is the most seniors that we've had and it's quite a group of kids," Rice Lake coach Tim Lipke said.

Rice Lake's battalion of seniors won out in the end, as the Spartans fell 42-36.

Even thought the SHS seniors did not end their final home game on a winning note, their performance was far from disappointing.

"I think they'll be somewhat happy maybe tomorrow morning," SHS coach Dan Schulz said. "We're going to feel bad about this a little bit just because we squandered a few opportunities and maybe didn't execute as well as we need to down the stretch. But I think if we learn from those mistakes that we made and get better shots when we're in close games ... there's a lot of positives we can take from this game."

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Superior trailed Rice Lake by as many as nine points in the third quarter before coming back to tie the game with 3:44 left to play in the final quarter. The Spartans' rally began with increased defensive pressure to start the third quarter.

Behind 24-17 after the first half, SHS senior Laura Amys ended Rice Lake's first two possessions of the third quarter with blocks inside. The Warriors then gained some ground before Superior regrouped.

"We weren't as aggressive on the glass as we needed to be in the second quarter," Schulz said. "We talked about at halftime that we had to pick up the intensity and also pick up our positioning and make sure we're boxing out. We were looking to get the defensive rebounds but we weren't putting ourselves in the right positions and forcing them to go over our backs. Limiting them to one shot, I think, was the key to us making a run in the late third and early fourth quarter."

Seniors Rachel Samuelson and Amys combined to spark a 6-0 Superior run that made it 28-25 with 1:35 left in the third quarter. Rice Lake's Molly Streuli then hit back-to-back 3-pointers to bump the Warriors' lead back up to nine, but Superior didn't quit.

Junior Kara Hoff made a three-point play and then hit a 3-pointer to put Superior with one possession, 36-34. The tying basket for SHS was appropriately scored by a senior, as Amys made the shot inside with an assist from fellow seniors Samuelson.

"Obviously their size was a concern for us," Lipke said. "They got us a little bit here and there, and you just have to kind of hang in there. I thought as the game wore on our pressure was able to cause some turnovers, and then at the other end we were able to get some decent shots."

Both teams turned the ball over at least three times each in the final three and a half minutes of the game, but Rice Lake was able to take advantage. The Warriors hit two free throws and made a fast-break layup in the final seconds to claim the 42-36 victory.

"Superior's a very good ball club, so we're very fortunate to be able to come up here on the last night of the regular season and win this game," Lipke said. "We hit a few free throws down the stretch and had some good defensive stops and that was the difference."

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Rice Lake had three players finishing in double figures, all seniors. Casey Weber led the team with 12 points, followed by Streuli with 11 and Tanae Romportl with 10.

For Superior, Amys led the way with 10 points. Britnee Blake added seven, Hoff had six and Shannon Lehikoinen had five points. Samuelson finished with four points and Danielle Berger and Taylor Kosey each added two points.

"I told the girls I'm very happy with the energy and the intensity that they played with," Schulz said. "And coming out in the second half and really competing is the thing I'm most pleased with. The way we competed in the second half, I think even though there are no good losses, we pick up some momentum heading into the playoffs by playing with the number one team in the Big Rivers Conference."

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