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Tigers press on past Trojans

Thanks to 38 forced turnovers, Marshall beats Worthington for the first time since 2008

December 17, 2010

MARSHALL - Marshall's Southwest Conference rivalry with Worthington hadn't been much of a rivalry the past two years, as the Trojans (the three-time defending conference champions) had won the last five meetings in the series. Thursday, the Tigers turned up the heat in the rivalry by turning up the pressure on defense.

Marshall's full-court pressure defense frustrated Worthington the whole game, causing an unsightly 38 turnovers as the Tigers ran away with a 61-38 win. It was the first time Marshall had beaten Worthington since the 2007-08 season.

With the Tigers' top-scorer, sophomore point guard Kelsey Saugstad, in foul trouble much of the game, junior Morgan McKittrick picked up the load on offense, pouring in a game-high 23 points. But even she admitted, it was the team's defense that was the key in the Tigers' dominant performance.

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The Marshall Tigers defeated Worthington 61-38 on Dec. 17 at MHS

"We've been working really hard on getting better at defense and not worrying so much about the offense," McKittrick said. "If we can hold teams down, we know we're going to be fine."

Marshall (3-0, 2-0 SWC) came into the game knowing Worthington (2-2, 1-2 SWC) had many capable scorers. Worthington senior center Martha Alwal's 6-foot-2 frame causes problems for many teams in the post, while Trojan forward Mackenzie Gerber has shown she can also put up points in bunches, scoring 20 with Alwal out in Tuesday's loss to Jackson County Central.

But Alwal and Gerber were never able to get in an offensive rhythm Thursday, because the Tigers' relentless full-court press made it difficult for the Trojans to even get into their offensive sets.

Article Photos

Photo by Matt Dahlseid
Marshall’s Morgan McKittrick, right, drives the ball to the basket while Worthington’s Paige Gravenhof defends during the first half of Thursday’s Southwest Conference game at Marshall High School. McKittrick scored a game-high 23 points in the Tigers’ victory. For more photos, go to

Worthington held a 10-9 lead six minutes into the game until Marshall went on an 18-3 run over the next five minutes thanks to steal after steal that led to the Tigers getting easy baskets or getting to the foul line (where Marshall shot 20-of-29 for the game).

Worthington head coach Eric Lindner said his team has been playing without its top guard, senior Cassie Landgaard, leaving some less-experienced players trying to get through the chaos cause by the pressure defense.

"(The Tigers) were trying to get to our young kids with the pressure and we didn't handle it very well," Lindner said. "There were times where we slowed down a little bit and ran it and we executed very well, but then there were times where it seemed like one turnover would turn into three and that's what happens when you play a pressure team."

Fact Box

Worthington (38)
Abbie Langaard 1 3-3 5, Sarah Cham 3 1-2 7, Mackenzie Gerber 0 0-2 0, Martha Alwal 4 5-9 13, Paige Gravenhof 1 0-0 2, Kristen Anderson 3 3-4 9, Bernadette Boever 0 2-4 2 Totals 12 14-24 38. Three-pointers 0 Rebounds 30 (Alwal 10, Cham 8) Steals 6 Turnovers 38.
Marshall (61)
Haley VanKuelen 0 2-2 2, Alyssa Netzke 1 3-4 5, Kelsey Saugstad 2 0-0 6, Kenzie Beekman 2 0-0 4, Morgan McKittrick 7 8-11 23, Alexis Boyd 3 4-4 10, Kelly VanLeeuwe 4 1-3 9, Jessica Baker 0 0-1 0, Taylor Miller 0 2-4 2 Totals 19 20-29 61. Three-pointers 3 (Saugstad 2) Rebounds 33 (VanLeeuwe 5, Amanda Tate 5) Assists 10 (Saugstad 4, McKittrick 4) Steals 19 (Saugstad 4, McKittrick 4, Beekman 3) Blocks 0 Turnovers 16.
Halftime Score: Marshall 36, Worthington 25.

Saugstad's aggressiveness on defense caused multiple turnovers (she had four steals), but she was a little too aggressive at times, picking up her second foul less than five minutes into the first half. With the team's leading scorer out, McKittrick looked for her shot more on offense and scored 15 first-half points as Marshall grabbed a 36-25 lead at the half.

"There were times in the first half when Morgan was tired and we asked her to keep going, and she did," Marshall head coach Dan Westby said. "Morgan has had some good offensive games in the past, but I think this was probably the best all-around game she's ever played. She played well on both ends of the court and was good in our press and it was good to see her play an all-around game like this."

Marshall wasn't able to create as many turnovers in the opening minutes in the second half, meaning the team had to create its offense in the half-court set. That didn't work so well for the Tigers, as they failed to score a point until the 12:37 mark of the half.

The Trojans capitalized on Marshall's offensive woes and got back into the game, and a steal and a layup by Alwal cut Marshall's lead to 40-34 with 10:30 left in the game. Alwal was the only Worthington player to reach double figures in scoring, putting up 13 points.

Feeling the pressure, Marshall kicked its defense up a notch. Back-to-back steals resulting in easy baskets and a four-point play by McKittrick after an offensive rebound helped the Tigers create some breathing room as Marshall mounted a 9-0 run. Worthington was never able to recover.

Freshman Kenzie Beekman finished the game with three steals and helped spark Marshall's second-half run with her defense. With her hot shooting, McKittrick also had a big contribution on the defensive end, with four steals.

Guard Alexis Boyd provided solid minutes off the bench, scoring 10 points, while Kelly VanLeeuwe had nine points and five rebounds.

Helping the Tigers take down a team that has won the conference the last three years, McKittrick said Thursday's win over Worthington was an encouraging sign for a Marshall team that had been in the middle of or below the pack in recent years. She wasn't ready to say the Tigers will be a contender for a conference title, but she feels optimistic about the young team.

"We can't look too far in the future because it's just our third game, but if we keep playing like this, good things can happen," McKittrick said.

The Tigers will have another chance to prove themselves Tuesday, when they host conference foe Jackson County Central. The Huskies are ranked ninth in Class AA and are undefeated at 5-0 following an 80-61 win over the Trojans Tuesday.

Westby said he's looking forward to seeing how his team stacks up against another SWC squad that will compete for the conference title.

"This is a big win and it feels good," Westby said, "but it doesn't mean a whole lot unless we come out and have a good effort on Tuesday against JCC. They're tough and they're ranked in AA, so they're a good team. Like I said, it doesn't mean much unless we come back and back it up on Tuesday night."



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