The Austin Packers girls basketball team, ranked No. 18 in the state in the latest Class AAA rankings from the Minnesota Basketball News kicked off the toughest stretch of their 2022-2023 schedule at Ove Berven Gym Friday night versus the Rochester Mayo Spartans in a matchup between the top two teams in the Big 9 Conference. Austin entered the contest on a five-game winning streak and a 7-1 record in the conference, while Mayo was riding a nine-game winning streak and were perfect thus far in conference play at 8-0, and Ava Miller, a 6’2″ junior center for the Spartans poured in 26 points, four of which helped to spark a late 9-0 run for Mayo in a 55-44 win.
Defense and turnovers dominated the first half of Friday night’s game as the two teams combined for 32 turnovers in the half, 17 for Mayo and 15 for Austin, as the Packers jumped out to a 4-0 lead and led 11-7 with 8:07 to go in the half when the Spartans answered with a 12-3 run to take a 19-14 lead. The half ended with Mayo up 21-16, and they took their biggest lead of the game to that point early in the second half at 25-17, but a 3-pointer from senior guard Cassidy Shute, who drained all four of Austin’s 3-point field goals in the game cut the Spartan lead to 25-21. Mayo pushed the lead back to seven at 30-23 with 12:03 to go, but the Packers fought back with an 8-2 run of their own to cut the Spartan lead to one at 32-31, and a layup from senior forward Olivia Walsh knotted the game at 36 apiece a short time later. The Spartans were undaunted, however, as six unanswered points after a timeout gave them a 42-36 lead, but a 3-pointer from Cassidy Shute and two free throws from guard Marie Tolbert cut the Mayo lead to 42-41 with just over four minutes left. Mayo then went back inside to Miller, who responded with two free throws with 3:53 left and a field goal to push the Spartan lead back to five at 46-41. After an Austin turnover, a layup from guard Kaia Kirkeby, who scored nine of her 11 points in the second half made the score 48-41, and after an offensive foul on the Packers, Kirkeby swished a 3-pointer from the top of the key to cap the late 9-0 run and a 51-41 Mayo lead with 1:30 to go. Austin was then forced to foul, but the Spartans were lights out from the free-throw line in the game and down the stretch, going 18 for 21 for 85% to help seal the win.
Cassidy Shute led the Packers offensively with 15 points before fouling out late in the second half, guard Ajiem Agwa was also in double figures in points with 10, Olivia Walsh finished with eight points, guard Marissa Shute scored five points, guard Marie Tolbert tallied three points and guard Quinn Osgood scored two points for the Packers, who were also 12 for 21 from the free-throw line in the game for 53%.
With the loss, Austin is now 7-2 in the Big 9 Conference and 8-3 overall on the season. The game against Mayo Friday night kicked off a stretch of four games in five days for the Packers, who will take on Stewartville, the No. 7 ranked team in the state in Class AAA at Kasson/Mantorville High School in Kasson Saturday afternoon at 1:30 p.m. in a rematch of the Section 1AAA championship game from last season. Austin is also slated to take on Visitation, the No. 19 ranked team in the state in Class AAA at 1:30 p.m. Monday in a Martin Luther King Jr. day matchup at St. Catherine University in the Twin Cities, and they will then travel to Faribault next Tuesday night to take on the Falcons in the Big 9 Conference, with the varsity tip-off that night slated for 7;30 p.m.