CROFTON — On a night in which she was honored for eclipsing 1,000 career points, Kelsey Sanger provided the perfect prelude.
The 5-foot-8 senior scored 22 of her game-high 24 points in the first half in leading Crofton to a 58-44 victory over Pierce on Thursday night in Mid-State Conference play.
Crofton didn't look like a team which had missed two days of practice because of a winter storm earlier in the week. They stormed to 37 first-half points, including 20 in the second quarter, on their way to leading by 21 at halftime.
"I wasn't expecting it quite as much," Sanger said. "We knew they were going to be good. They're always a good team to play. So I was not expecting that by any means."
Sanger's impact wasn't just in the scoring column. The four-year starter at point guard, also a Nebraska-Kearney commit, posted four assists, seven steals and even blocked a shot.
"Kelsey can do a lot of things on the court from a defensive aspect," her coach, Aaron Losing, said. "She can create a lot of things for herself with her active shoes on defense. She got a couple easy ones with steals tonight, but she's become very well-rounded on offense. ... She's really taking her game to another level."
The Warriors, rated No. 1 in Class C2, used a pair of scoring runs in the first half to take control.
They outscored the Class C1 No. 9 Bluejays 14-2 over a stretch of 3 minutes, 8 seconds between the end of the first quarter and start of the second. That turned what was a tied game into a 21-9 advantage.
"Preparation for Crofton was a big concern," Pierce coach Darren Sindelar said. "Obviously, trying to figure out how to match up with them... with Crofton being as good of a team, as they are, I was concerned with how we would match up with them."
A big reason for that run was team basketball. Six of the seven baskets in the run came off assists from teammates.
Sanger started the run when she hit a 3-pointer off a Monica Arens assist. She also dished to Aubree Potts, who came off the bench for two down low to force a Pierce timeout with 1:57 left in the first quarter.
Elyssa Tramp found Sanger for another 3-pointer a minute later, and Sanger beat the buzzer with a jumper in the lane for a 17-9 lead.
"I thought our defense led to some offensive opportunities," Losing said. "Defense is something that we haven't been as consistent of in years past. Anytime you can get steals, anytime you can get rebounds, you can get some transition going, and we like to play that transition style of basketball."
Just 11 seconds into the second quarter, Sanger turned a steal into a layup, and Monica Arens hit for two off a Sanger assist.
As if that wasn't enough, Crofton went on a 10-0 run to end the half.
Sanger was the catalyst again, hitting a pair of field goals before two free throws by both Monica and Alexis Arens, with the latter ones coming with 12 seconds remaining. Sanger got a steal on the following Pierce possession, and she added a layup six seconds later for a 37-16 halftime lead.
Crofton went cold in the third quarter, getting only one field goal and a trio of free throws, all by Monica Arens, in the entire period. Pierce cut the lead down to 40-28 after a Maggie Brahmer putback, but that was all the closer they would get the rest of the night.
The Bluejays put together another run to end the game, outscoring the Warriors 12-3 in the final 2:56. That included a jumper by Kaylee Dvorak at the buzzer.
Pierce........9 7 12 16—44
At Crofton....17 20 5 16—58
PIERCE (14-4): Hailey Race 1-7 2-4 5; Ellexis Dunn 0-1 0-0 0; Kayla Simmons 0-1 0-0 0; Sidney Zimmerer 2-6 4-4 9; Brenna Collison 0-2 2-3 2; Carly Sutherland 6-15 3-4 16; Maggie Brahmer 5-7 0-1 10; Kaylee Dvorak 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 15-40 11-16 44.
CROFTON (14-2): Madisen Kube 0-1 0-0 0; Elyssa Tramp 0-2 1-2 1; Aubree Potts 1-1 0-0 2; Sam Altwine 1-1 0-0 2; Monica Arens 6-18 5-6 17; Kelsey Sanger 11-18 0-1 24; Alexis Arens 3-8 5-6 12; Mariah Dendinger 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 22-50 11-15 58.