Tigers beat Cougars on Senior Night

Published 9:45 pm Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Megan Kortan of Albert Lea shoots over defenders from Mankato East Tuesday at Albert Lea on Senior NIght. — Micah Bader/Albert Lea Tribune

Megan Kortan of Albert Lea shoots over defenders from Mankato East Tuesday at Albert Lea on Senior Night. — Micah Bader/Albert Lea Tribune

Seniors on the Albert Lea girls’ basketball team were in seventh grade the last time the Tigers beat Mankato East.

Albert Lea came close with a 69-67 triple-overtime loss last season, but this year, the Tigers snapped their 10-game losing streak against the Cougars.

Megan Kortan scored a game-high 22 points to lead Albert Lea past Mankato East 49-44 Tuesday on Senior Night at Albert Lea.

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“We needed this as a team,” said Kortan. “It boosts our confidence going into sections.”

Over the last five games, Kortan has led the Tigers with an average of 20.4 points per game. She broke the 1,000-career point barrier Friday at Winona.

“She leaves everything out on the court every single night and works as hard as she can,” said Albert Lea coach Lindsey Hugstad-Vaa. “Her tenacity has really set the tone for the other kids.”

Kortan credited the Tigers’ supporting cast.

“I knew I’d have to work hard, and it was my teammates who helped me accomplish that goal,” she said.

Kortan’s brothers — Logan, Connor and Carter — wrestled during the winter sports season, but she said they played basketball with her.

“That’s probably why I’m a little bit tough,” Kortan said with a smile. “Them bumping me around.”

Because of a season-ending knee injury Kortan’s freshman season, she started varsity action her sophomore year, the same season Hugstad-Vaa took over as head coach.

“She’s changed my life, and I think it’s the same for all the girls who went through the basketball program,” Kortan said about Hugstad-Vaa. “She treats us as one of her own daughters and cares about us.”

Kortan and Larissa Johnson are the only seniors on Albert Lea’s roster. Johnson had one point, five rebounds and an assist.

“Larissa did a great job of being aggressive and playing good defense in the post,” Hugstad-Vaa said.

Not only did the Tigers win the scoring battle against the Cougars, they also had the edge in rebounds, 32-30; steals, 14-6; and turnovers, 14-19.

In the first half, Albert Lea jumped out to a 6-0 lead, trailed 16-15 with 2:39 before halftime and went into the locker room on an 8-2 run.

“At the beginning of the game, it was exciting to see the girls crashing the boards, especially Fran (Eckstrom),” Hugstad-Vaa said.

Eckstrom posted a game-high nine rebounds.

In the second half, the Tigers extended their five-point halftime lead to seven points on a drive by Katie Rasmussen.

However, a pair of 3-pointers fueled a 17-6 run by Mankato East. At the 11-minute mark, Albert Lea trailed 35-31.

With four minutes left in regulation, Quinn Peterson scored off of an offensive rebound, and the Tigers tied the game at 38.

A 3-point play by Kortan with 2:34 remaining gave Albert Lea a 46-40 lead, and a pair of free throws by Eckstrom sealed the Tigers’ victory.

“When it was on the line, it was good to see the girls pull through, keep calm and want this win so bad,” Hugstad-Vaa said. “They’ve been playing so well together for so many games that it was great to have it all come together.”

Next, Albert Lea (3-22, 2-19 Big Nine) will host Rochester Mayo (19-5, 17-4 Big Nine) at 7:30 p.m. Friday.

In the eight-team Section 1AAA standings, Albert Lea is sixth.