The Hastings Raiders girls' basketball team finally started Metro East Conference play last week when they beat the Simley Spartans at home Friday, Jan. 5. The Raiders beat the Spartans 49-37 in a game that was very close until the closing minutes. With the win, Hastings is now 8-3 overall and joins Mahtomedi, Henry Sibley and Hill-Murray atop the Metro East Conference standings at 1-0.
Both teams started off slowly as they tried to get into rhythm and feel the other out. Nine minutes into the first half, Simley led 12-10 but neither team had been able to get into a flow. However, as the half progressed both teams were able to hit their strides. Mallory Brake carried the Raiders early, especially after Krystal Carlson left the game with an injury. However, Hastings began to ramp up the defensive intensity and forced some turnovers at the end of the half to lead 29-24 despite Simley hitting a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
Whatever offensive flow that was developed in the first half was left in the locker room for the second. In the first eight minutes of the second half, the Raiders and Spartans combined to score nine points total. While there were some complaints about officiating, there was nothing that altered the game significantly as both teams struggled to make shots.
As Hastings continued its cold shooting, Simley made a run to get within one as the Raiders led 37-36 with just over four minutes left in the game. However, from there Hastings clamped down and forced seven straight turnovers to put the game away in a very tense atmosphere. The Raiders held on to win 49-37, holding the Spartans to just one point over the last four minutes.
Over those last four minutes, the Raiders received a spark from eighth-grader Lilly Nuytten. Nuytten, in her best game on varsity so far this season, did a little bit of everything for Hastings down the stretch. She scored, was 4-for-4 at the free-throw line, came up with some big rebounds and was a pest on defense. The Raiders' lead would not have been 12 without Nuytten.
Despite leaving briefly with an injury, Krystal Carlson led Hastings with 19 points along with nine rebounds, six steals and two assists. Brake had 12 points and 16 rebounds for the double-double, as well as four assists and seven steals. Nuytten added her eight points and three rebounds, Megan Mattson and Ashley Fritz each had four points, and Caprice Van den Assem had two.
Head coach Padrick Judd said that his team learned during the tournament at St. Olaf that they needed to better take care of the ball, which they did against the Spartans with only 11 turnovers. He also credited the defense with improving after some let downs during the tournament.
"The girls played well, even when Krystal went down," Judd said. "It is never easy to see one of your leaders go down like that, but they knew it was time for someone to step up, and they did a good job during that time. Credit to our bench for stepping up."
Hastings traveled to North St. Paul on Tuesday, Jan. 9, and then hosts South St. Paul on Friday, Jan. 12, before going to Woodbury on Saturday, Jan. 13.