Something has clicked for the Hastings Raiders girls’ basketball team. There are several areas observers can point to that has made the difference for Hastings – chemistry, attention to detail, improved defense, a better understanding on the offensive end – but whatever the combination the result is three-straight wins for the Raiders.

Hastings won on the road at Park of Cottage Grove on Jan. 4, 53-31 over their Hwy. 61-rival Wolfpack, routed the North St. Paul Polars 60-22 at home on Tuesday and then traveled to Prescott this past Saturday where they upset the previously undefeated Cardinals 58-55. While Park and North St. Paul are both struggling this year, the win over Prescott is a signature win for Hastings that showed the determination and improvements the Raiders have made over the past two months.

In the game against Prescott, Hastings weathered a 6-0 Cardinal run to start the game and took the lead midway through the first half. At halftime, the Raiders led 25-19. The Cardinals like to press and generates a lot of its offense in transition off of those turnovers and defensive rebounds. That press was effective to start the game, but Hastings slowly was able to figure it out. Combine that with not allowing the Cardinals to get out in transition and the finishing of senior Mallory Brake and the Raiders had the edge in a low-scoring first half.

Hastings started the second half on a 5-0 run but Prescott slowly was able to claw back as junior Isabella Lenz really got going for the Cardinals. Prescott cut the deficit to four points with 5 minutes left and eventually took the lead. The Raiders were then able to tie the game and junior Avery Daley put them up two points with 3.4 seconds left on two free throws and Hastings was able to hang on.

“I think it’s the best complete game (they’ve played), it’s where we battled adversity right from the jump but really in the second half,” Hastings head coach Scott Addyman said after the Prescott game. “We had the lead going into halftime, came out with the lead and for Prescott to claw back in it and our girls were able to stick their foot in the ground and say ‘hey, we’re going to finish this game off’.”

When asked what has made the largest difference during Hastings’ three-game winning streak, Addyman said it was his team’s ability to execute what they have learned.

“Girls being coachable, girls taking it from the whiteboard on the bench to the hardwood. We’re running a lot of different things, we’re looking for a lot of different forms of attacking, whether it’s transition and getting the ball to the corner, or we’re pushing the ball up to the middle trying to get the kick outs and the post ups,” he said. “But just being able to have the variety, that’s our strength right now, having several things, tricks in the bag so to say.”

The Raiders took their lumps early on in the season with a challenging non-conference schedule that included losses to Rosemount (12-1 and ranked No. 4 in Class 4A), Burnsville (9-4), Roseville (9-6) and Minneapolis South (12-2). However, Addyman said he believes those early games have helped prepare Hastings for Metro East Conference play where they are 1-1 so far and in later non-conference matchups.

“That’s the beauty of playing such a tough non-conference schedule leading into conference play as well as a later non-conference game,” he said. “We’re playing good city schools that are pushing the ball and have great athletes, and then to come to Prescott where they do have great athletes and kids who can push the ball, we’ve been used to it.”

That has perhaps made the largest difference on the defensive end. Hastings has not allowed 60 points in any of their last four games, during which they are 3-1, including only 55 to a Prescott team that averages over 60 points per game. Their half court defense has improved leaps and bounds since the start of the season, anchored by Brake and sophomore Lilly Nuytten, and their transition defense had great stretches against the Cardinals.

“We are beginning to recognize what it takes on the defensive end to win games,” Brake said. “We are paying close attention to the little details like help defense and always having a hand in the opponent’s face. The flow of offense is starting to become more natural to us.”

As Hastings as a team has grown, so have its individual players and their roles.

“Her (Avery Daley), Hannah (Schultz) came in and played big minutes for us in the first half, Lilly (Nuytten) has been phenomenal in terms of guarding the basketball, defense, also hitting shots,” Addyman said about the Prescott game. “Of course Mal Brake, everyone knows what she brings to the table. Shea Levos not panicking too much, having a couple turnovers happen and being able to flush those bad experiences out and get right back into doing her thing.”

Brake continues to score, defend and rebound at an elite level and is one of the best in the state right now scoring and rebounding. She had 27 points and 15 rebounds against the Cardinals. Nuytten, on top of being a defensive stopper, continues to develop on the offensive end and is a proficient midrange shooter. She scored nine points and grabbed 13 rebounds. The trio of juniors Linnea Hanson, Levos and Avery Daley handled Prescott’s press better and better as the game went on. Levos and Daley hit several critical shots in the second half. Levos scored eight points and Daley seven.

Hastings travels to Henry Sibley on Tuesday and then goes to South St. Paul on Friday.

Head coach Scott Addyman praised sophomore Lilly Nuytten (hands up) for her defense this season. The Raiders' defense has been a strength during their three-game winning streak. Alec Hamilton / RiverTown Multimedia
Head coach Scott Addyman praised sophomore Lilly Nuytten (hands up) for her defense this season. The Raiders' defense has been a strength during their three-game winning streak. Alec Hamilton / RiverTown Multimedia