The St. Peter girls basketball team suffered a crushing 96-61 defeat to New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva in the Section 2AA championship rematch Friday night at Bresnan Area at Minnesota State University, Mankato.

NRHEG won last year by just 5 points, but the Saints have a lot to be proud of this season, finishing with a 22-6 record.

The No. 2 state-ranked Panthers, who upped to 29-1 with 49 points, 10 assists, seven rebounds and six steals by junior guard Carlie Wagner, just had too much quickness for the taller Saints to handle.

St. Peter actually took a 4-0 lead on baskets by center Olivia Hass and guard Kelsey Carpenter, but the Panthers took over and led the rest of game, taking a 54-31 lead at halftime.

Wagner scored as many points in the first half as St. Peter did as team.

Four Saints scored in double digits. Carpenter led St. Peter with 14 points including 1-for-7 on 3-point shots.

Forward Tailor Raymond, who made 1-of-3 from 3-point land, scored 12 points and grabbed four rebounds.

Retzlaff, who made 3-for-6 on 3-point shots, collected 10 points and five rebounds.

Guard Lydia Kennedy, who hit 2-of-3 on 3-pointers, also had 10 points and led the Saints with five assists.

Hass had eight points and a team-high six rebounds.

Forward Kierstin Karlsrud netted six points, and Shawna Zabinsky scored one point.

The Panthers didn’t let up in the second half, outscoring the Saints 42-30.

“We didn’t handle their pressure well,” St. Peter head coach Bob Southworth said. “We didn’t take care of the ball early, which allowed them to get out to a big lead, and that was the difference.”

The Panthers used a half-court trap defense where two players box in one girl on the wing to force turnovers.

Wagner, who has signed to play with the Minnesota Gophers, still has a season remaining in high school.

“She’s a special player,” Southworth said. “Those don’t come around that often. To her credit, she was finishing tonight. We let her get to the rim way too easy.”

Logan Retzlaff guarded Wagner most of the night in a man-to-man defense.

“We were supposed to have a helper to cut her off, and we just didn’t seem to get that,” Southworth said. “She made some good passes, too.”

The Saints reached their goal of making the section finals again, but they wanted to take that extra step to state.

“We were hoping to give them a better game,” Southworth said.

The Saints came out of the locker room teary eyed.

But despite the season-ending loss, Southworth said, “I’m proud of the girls and how they performed. We had some really good games, and we had some tough games. But when you look at the whole big picture, it’s a success.”

It’s been a rebuilding year every year for the last three years, and it will be no different next season.

“The last three years we’re had to replace four or five girls every year,” Southworth said. “We’ll have to replace five seniors this year who contributed in one way or another. That’s just the nature of high school basketball. You just got to get young kids to step up in the next couple years.”

The Saints lose five seniors: guards Lydia Kennedy, Kelsey Carpenter and Calleigh Carlson and forwards Tailor Raymond and Kierstin Karlsrud.

Returning starters are sophomores Hass and Retzlaff with freshman Emily Carpenter, sophomore Marta Springer and juniors Shawna Zabinski, Olivia Gullickson, Ingrid Karlsrud and Dani Leonard coming off the bench.

Southworth hasn’t set goals for next year yet. “We’ll start working on that this summer.”

“Like I told the girls, you can’t just remember this game. You’ve got to remember the whole journey,” Southworth said.

Reach Sports Editor Pat Beck at 931-8566, or follow him on Twitter.com @SPHSportsPat

Reach Sports Editor Pat Beck at 931-8566, or follow him on Twitter.com @SPHSportsPat

St. Peter Herald Sports Editor covers St. Peter, Cleveland, Le Center, Le Sueur-Henderson and Tri-City United and Gustavus Adolphus College. Fishing, tennis and golf enthusiast