CULVER — Gina Hierlmeier’s 100th win provided a nice cherry on top, but that wasn’t what the first-year Culver Community coach was thinking about heading into Saturday’s game with Bremen.
Hierlmeier was more concerned that the Lady Cavs open up their Northern State Conference schedule on the right foot.
It wasn’t always pretty, but Culver got the W by a convincing 52-38 margin at home at John R. Nelson Gymnasium, and the West Central transfer earned her 100th win in the process.
“Obviously any time you hit a milestone in coaching it’s great to have, but I’m not thinking about that during the game,” Hierlmeier said. “I think there have probably been more people talking about it amongst some school members and my family than I have. My goal coming out today was just for our girls to play well, and I’m glad we got a good win today to start out our conference. That was really what today was about for me.”
Culver jumped out to a 12-2 lead in the opening frame and never once surrendered the lead, although the Lady Lions cut that margin down to four with a 7-1 second quarter-opening run capped off by a Slabaugh layup off an Alexa Harshbarger backdoor lob at the 5:15 stop. The Cavs widened the margin back to 10 points with a 6-0 run sparked by a Kayla Shaffer steal and transition bucket, but Bremen cut the deficit back to three with a 7-0 run on three straight Culver turnovers.
But the Cavs closed the quarter 4-0 to take a 23-16 lead into the half, and the Lions never got closer than six points the rest of the way.
The conference opener quickly shaped up into a ball control battle with both teams struggling to maintain possession against the other’s defensive pressure. Bremen created 20 Culver turnovers for the game, mainly on the strength of its full court press, while Culver used a halfcourt trap to fluster the Lions into 26 turnovers and numerous breakaway buckets.
“They were changing it up. They were going from man to a zone and then a halfcourt trap, which probably rattled us at times,” said Bremen head coach Tonya Lucchese.
“I thought our press was doing pretty well. They were getting them rattled, and I think we need to continue to do that.”
“To be honest I was more upset about the way we played against their pressure defense than I was about what their defense was doing,” said Hierlmeier. “We had quite a few travel calls, we had cutters that weren’t coming in and out the way I would like them too, but I guess we didn’t really talk too much about this team’s pressure. We’ve handled pressure pretty well up to this point, and we haven’t had many teams in a couple weeks that have even tried to pressure us so we were a little rusty.”
Shaffer finished with 27 points — her second straight outing with more than 20 — scoring in the post as well as running the court with several breakaway layups off her game-high eight steals. The junior swing player put up 17 of her team’s 23 points in the first half as the Cavs bounced back from a tough one-point loss at Rochester last Tuesday.
“I think we started out pretty tough by running the court and got a few layups like that,” said Shaffer. “I missed a couple that I should’ve made, but I think we were able to run the floor a lot and get some good steals and play really good offense too.”
“She had 27 points, but she had shots she could’ve hit early and didn’t hit. That was a challenge going in at halftime: ‘We can’t get you any closer to the basket, you’re just going to have to hit shots, “ Hierlmeier said, “But she is a complete player… and we talked to her about that, being aggressive on the offensive and defensive end. I thought today better than any game previously, she showed her defensive ability on those traps to get hands up on balls and to rotate to spots. She had a great game for us.”
The uptempo defensive pressure at the game made for a physical contest that featured a combined 32 fouls with three players fouling out.
The Cavs were the main beneficiary of those whistles with 17 points on 35 free throws as Bremen’s Rachel Czarnecki and Chelsea Huppert both fouled out in the loss.
“We want to attack the basket when we can, and we want to get to the free throw line. Our problem right now is we’re not consistently getting to the free throw line and even when we get there we’re not consistently knocking down free throws,” Hierlmeier said.
“We had some girls step up and hit some, but it’s not as consistent as we’d like. We’d like to be shooting about 70 percent as a team, and right now we’re I think in the high 50s, low 60s, so it’s definitely something we need to work on.”
Behind Shaffer’s game-high 27, Culver forward Donna Zehner scored 16 following a scoreless outing at Rochester. She also pulled down a team-leading seven rebounds.
“I think Donna is just letting more and more teams know who she is,” said Hierlmeier. “Against Rochester our conversation after the game was ‘Man, they didn’t want me to have the ball’, and I said ‘Well, yeah, teams are going to know that we need you to be effective.’ She understands she’s just got to work harder, and the more that she scores, the more people are going to eye her as someone to stop.”
Bremen was led by junior guard Slabaugh’s 12 points as well as Brooke Snyder’s game-high 11 rebounds and Harshbarger’s three assists. Freshman Huppert scored seven points despite sitting out long spells in intermittent foul trouble throughout the night after scoring 10 points in a standout junior varsity performance earlier Saturday.
“She posts really well, and we need to continue to look for our post to open our outside game up,” said Lucchese of Huppert.
While Culver moves to 6-2 with a 1-0 NSC start, Bremen slides to 0-7 following a heartbreaking two-point overtime loss at Westview Thursday.
“We’re just going to battle and try to do what we do best and move forward,” Lucchese said.
• CULVER 52, BREMEN 38
Score by quarters
Bremen: 2 16 22 38
Culver: 12 23 37 52
BREMEN (38): Jasmine Shafer 2, Cassie Sears 2, Alexa Harshbarger 0, Ashley Lucchese 5, Megan Stouder 4, Sara Slabaugh 12, Rachel Czarnecki 4, Brooke Snyder 2, Chelsea Huppert 7; Totals: 14 8-15 38.
CULVER (52): Angella Lewellen 2, Tatum Schultz 2, Mickella Hardy 5, Donna Zehner 16, Kayla Shaffer 27; Totals: 17 17-35 52.
3-pointers: Bremen 2 (Slabaugh 2), Culver 1 (Shaffer); Rebounds: Bremen 24 (Snyder 11), Culver 20 (Zehner 7); Turnovers: Bremen 26, Culver 20; Assists: Bremen 9 (Harshbarger 3), Culver 13 (Schultz 5); Steals: Bremen 7 (Slabaugh 2, Stouder 2), Culver 14 (Shaffer 8); (Fouls (fouled out): Culver 14 (Schultz), Bremen 28 (Czarnecki, Huppert).
Records: Culver 6-2 (1-0 NSC), Bremen 0-7 (0-1 NSC)