WYOMING - If there was one thing legendary former Midland girls basketball coach Jerry Carstens was known for (besides winning), it was defense.
On a night where the school honored their former coach with a Hall of Fame induction, Carstens had to have been looking down with pride (he passed away on Oct. 27) at the way his former team played in front of a huge home crowd Friday, Jan. 31, in Wyoming.
“Friday evening was a very special one for our community,” said Eagle girls basketball coach Jason Soper, as his team honored Carstens with their best performance of the 2019-20 campaign crushing visiting Cedar Valley Christian playing the exact same kind of suffocating defense Carstens would have loved in cruising to a 41-14 rout.
“I am a graduate of Midland from the 1995 class and knew Jerry and all that he brought and did for myself as a student, our school and community. So that being said and knowing the brevity of the evening, we wanted our team to perform at a peak level, and especially defensively. I felt we did just that.”
Midland (3-14, 1-7) almost seemed to play with a divine intervention all night long erasing an early Huskies’ lead by going on a 15-4 run to take a commanding 19-8 lead into the halftime break.
Amaya Terrell keyed the spurt with some sensational play scoring all seven of her points during the big second quarter rally that blew the game open.
Coming out of the break the Eagles continued to roll, and used defense as their guide.
“I felt as if our girls really bared down and performed as if it was Jerry’s night,” Soper said. “He was a very defensive minded coach and nothing was more fitting than us turning in our best defensive performance of the season on his night.”
Ari Hacke, Kirstin Schaefer and Allison Paulsen took over the offense for the hosts in the second half as the Eagles built a 30-14 advantage heading into the final frame, an eight-minute stretch that will be etched in Eagle lore forever.
Allowing a mere 14 points heading into the fourth quarter was one thing, then the Eagles went out and held Cedar Valley Christian scoreless over the final eight-minute stretch, honoring Carstens with the kind of defense he was known for during his mind-boggling nearly 40-year Midland career.
“We came out and played our best second half of the year,” Soper said. “I was super proud of the team and the effort they turned in on such a special night. It was truly a team victory, and we were just honored to be a part of it.”
Paulsen finished with a team-high 13 points and 13 rebounds while Hacke added nine points, nine boards and four assists. Midland dominated the glass pulling down a whopping 60 rebounds.
The Eagles started their first winning streak of the season less than 24 hours later, traveling to Clayton Ridge where they rallied for a 31-26 victory Saturday, Feb. 1.
“Coming into the game we knew very little about Clayton Ridge and only had one common opponent to compare to,” Soper said. “Record-wise we both had two victories on the year so we knew someone was going to earn their third of the season. One thing I did know was that offensively we were playing better and had played now three pretty good games consecutively, so keeping that going was very important.”
While the offense took some time to find its rhythm, but the defense kept the Eagles in it holding the host Eagles to a mere eight-point first frame and trailed just 8-6 at the horn.
Point came at a premium in the second stanza as well, with Midland trailing 17-16 heading into the break before a third quarter drought had Midland fans concerned.
There was nothing to worry about.
Led by Hacke, Terrell, Paulsen and Kaeti Taylor-Mere, the visiting Eagles erased a 24-19 third quarter deficit and went on a 12-2 fourth quarter run to end the game and escape with the wild come-from-behind win.
“It’s not very often you can turn the ball over 26 times and shoot as few shots as we did and win a game,” Soper said. “One thing I will say, I felt our team really grew up and I am proud of earning a victory even if it wasn’t beautiful. We had some really key moments in the fourth. Trailing by three Kaeti made a beautiful back cut and handled the pass in traffic to finish the lay-up cutting it to one.
“Then late in the fourth leading by one, Bailie Uppena grabbed an offensive rebound off a missed free throw and laid it back up and in to give us a three-point lead. Those two moments were very pivotal.”
Hacke was sensational scoring a game-high 19 points while adding 13 rebounds and four blocked shots.
“Ari had an amazing game scoring a season-high 19 points,” Soper said. “Overall, just very proud at our staying power and excited about winning two in a row.”
The busy week opened at Alburnett Monday, Jan. 27, where Midland was handed a narrow 49-35 defeat.
“This was the first time all year I felt as a coach we had one slip away,” Soper said. “We played extremely hard and deserved to come out on top.”
The Eagles led 5-2 early in the game, but an 11-5 run to close the opening quarter gave the Pirates a lead they would not lose the rest of the way, though Midland did not go down without a fight.
The Eagles pulled to within a point (21-20) late in the second quarter before the hosts took a 25-20 lead into the break.
The third quarter was again tight, ending with Midland trailing 39-33.
“Midway through the fourth quarter we had three straight possessions where we really moved the ball and got the exact shots we wanted,” Soper said. “They just wouldn’t fall. I was very proud of the way the team played. I challenged them with a few new things and we stayed disciplined and really competed for all four quarters.”
Hacke powered the offense with 15 points and snared six rebounds while Schaefer added seven points and six boards.