Faith Christian girls claim third at CAL Tournament

Faith Christian School of Foreston edged Immanuel Lutheran of Mankato 55-54 to claim third place at the Christian Athletic League Girls State Basketball Tournament Saturday at Mankato East High School.

The final one-point margin suggests a heart-stopping game that may not have been decided until the final seconds.

It was!

“The game played out just as we expected – an all-out war on the court,” said FCS Coach Mike Sohre. “Immanuel is a veteran team that has four seniors and always fights us hard and usually comes out on top.

“They play a fierce, physical game and try to beat you down and wear you out. We had defeated them earlier on the season but I was very apprehensive about the game. A key was to be mentally prepared and we were.”

The teams battled back and forth, with Faith Christian holding a 55-52 lead following a free throw by eighth-grader Beth Childs with 12 seconds remaining.

The Saints knocked an Immanuel pass out of bounds and Immanuel called a time out with six  seconds left.

“We were out of time outs, so that was great and allowed us to decide our strategy,” said Sohre. “I told the girls three things.

“One, we don’t want to allow the three-point shot, so we spread our defense out. Two, we don’t want to foul. Three, if they make a two-point basket, don’t pick up the ball and let the clock run out. The players repeated those three things back to me and then went out carried them out.”

Immanuel in-bounded the ball and scored an uncontested layup. The ball rolled on the court and the final buzzer sounded, with FCS holding on to a one-point victory.

“Last year we lost the third-place game by one point,” said Sohre. “So, this victory was extremely sweet. The girls worked so hard this season and deserved to close out with a victory. Faith Christian placed second at the CAL Tournament in 2006-2007, so this was the school’s second-best finish.”

Senior forward/center Jamie Nelson paced the Saints with 20 points and 10 rebounds. Sophomore center Ashley Johnson added 13 points and latched onto 16 rebounds while junior forward Faith Britton had 10 rebounds and two points. Senior guard Madde Brown had four points and seven assists.

Britton returned to action in the tournament after being sidelined several weeks with a sprained ankle.

Sohre cited Nelson for her senior leadership which helped the Saints hold on at the end of the game and notch the victory.

FCS, behind its big three up front, had a 45-35 edge in rebounds.

Amber Matzke led Immanuel with 11 points.

Faith Christian opened the tournament by stopping Hope Christian of South St. Paul 49-30 Thursday, March 7.

The Saints led 22-18 at halftime before breaking the game open in the second half.

“We had defeated Hope earlier in the year and despite warning not to take them lightly, we may have gone into the game a little over confident,” said Sohre. “We regained our focus and played much better in the second half.”

Johnson totaled 23 points and 18 rebounds while Nelson had 14 points and 16 rebounds and Britton had eight points and 12 rebounds.

The Saints dominated in rebounds 54-36.

The win moved FCS into the semifinals against Cambridge Christian Friday.

Cambridge, Faith Christian’s keenest rival, got off to a quick start and led 29-8 at halftime as it posted a 45-28 victory.

“We were on edge after losing to Cambridge by 33 points earlier in the season,” said Sohre. “We played better in the second half but not well enough to cut the deficit by much.

“It was disappointing because we went into the game feeling we could play with them,” said Sohre.

“Nelson had eight points to lead the Saints.

Faith Christian finished the season with an 18-9 record. The team banquet is scheduled for tonight (Thursday) at 7.