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Mercer beats rival Hurley for second straight time

MERCER, Wis. - After going over 11 years without a win over their archrivals to the north, the Mercer Tigers now have a winning streak against Hurley.

The Tigers fought off a spirited second-half rally by the Midgettes for a 59-51 win Friday night.

Mercer's Caitlyn Hiller had a career-high 34 points, including 20 in the first half when she helped the Tigers to a 28-18 advantage. The Tigers led by as many as 15 points in the second half and Hurley got as close as three points before Mercer closed it out.

When the Tigers beat Hurley in February of last season, it was their first victory in the matchup since 2003. Now Mercer expects to be competitive against the top teams in the Indianhead Conference all the time.

"We started to build this program and we're going to be tough, we're going to play them tough for years and years to come," Mercer coach Shannon Hiller said. "We have excitement in our younger grades now.

"It means a lot to me, we have not beat what I consider one of the better teams in the conference until tonight. I still think Hurley's, they're going to be challenging a lot of teams for this conference and it was good for our girls to be able to win the game, especially with the adversity."

The luster of beating a rival hasn't worn off yet.

Not even close.

"It's still a big deal, it's still a rivalry game. you could sense in the gym what this meant," Hiller said.

Hiller outscored Hurley 20-18 in the first half after scoring just 11 points in a win Thursday night.

"It's been really tough because they've been having their best players guarding me, so I haven't been shooting outside as much," she said. "Tonight, they played a zone, so it was easier for me to get my outside shots."

Hurley's second-half rally wasn't enough after digging a double-digit hole.

"We came with 100 percent effort in the second half," Hurley assistant coach Jim Kivisto said. "First half, lackluster, we didn't hustle, we didn't go on the floor for balls, came out a little soft on defense. But second half, we played wonderful. But as a team, we have to play two halves to win games."

Gwen Allen attacked the basket twice within the first minute of the second half and Mercer led 32-18. The lead grew as big as 15 points, 35-20, on a three-point play by Sydney Thompson.

The Midgettes had enough.

Ally Olson and Tori Colassaco drained back-to-back 3s to get the deficit to single digits, 35-26.

Hiller answered with her first basket of the second half, but Colassaco hit another 3. After a three-point play by Mercer's Taylor Wolfe, Hurley scored the next five points, including a 3 by Tianne Kuula to make it 40-34 Mercer.

A transition layup by Brooke Piilola brought Hurley within 41-38 and with the score the same, she took a charge with 6:32 to go.

About 30 seconds later, Mercer's Gwen Allen picked off a Hurley pass and ran downcourt for the layup despite getting fouled to make it a two-possession game again.

"That was huge," coach Hiller said. "I tell her all the time, when you play zone, you have to be smart about it and you have to lay back sometimes. She likes to just get in girls' faces, she's a man-to-man defense kind of girl. We have to play zone a lot of times, we don't match up well with smaller teams like this. I told her, 'Lay back, lay back, and you're going to get those steals.' And sure enough, it couldn't have come at a better time."

Hiller scored again and the Midgettes cut it to four once more on a Maria Swartz triple, but Mercer never let Hurley get within a possession again. Hiller made 10 free throws after that.

Hurley changed things defensively after halftime.

"We went to man-to-man, a lot of pressure, and it did fluster them, we got it within three," Kivisto said. "Maybe we ran out of a little bit of gas, we had to foul a lot, (Hiller) made her free throws, too. She played a great game for Mercer."

Coach Hiller liked how his team had an answer each time Hurley drew within a handful of points, but there's one thing that could have kept Hurley further away.

"We were not good at the free throw line (overall)," Hiller said. "That was the difference for that comeback. If we would have hit our foul shots, it wouldn't have been quite as close."

It was a career night for Hiller, a junior.

"Caitlyn had a phenomenal night tonight. She was on fire," coach Hiller said. "She missed her first like three shots. She had that look on her face. I told her, 'Keep shooting, it'll come.' I could just tell, everything was right, she just needed to find that mark and once she found it, she couldn't miss there for awhile."

Allen came up big in the second half and finished with 11 points.

"Gwen has just come alive offensively the last couple games," Hiller said. "She's the smallest girl on the floor usually and she just plays so big."

Swartz led Hurley with 18 points.

Mercer (7-3, 4-3) goes to Ironwood Thursday. Hurley (5-5, 4-4) hosts Solon Springs Tuesday.

Hurley - Kaylyn King 2, Brooke Piilola 4, Aiyana Nickel 6, Tianne Kuula 6, Tori Colassaco 12, Ally Olson 3, Maria Swartz 18. FTs: 14-21. Fouls: 28. Fouled out: Kuula, Colassaco, Swartz. 3-pointers: Kuula 1, Colassaco 3, Olson 1, Swartz 2.

Mercer - Christina Grams 4, Sarah Kirchoff 2, Gwen Allen 11, Caitlyn Hiller 34, Sydney Thompson 5, Taylor Wolfe 3. FTs: 17-38. Fouls: 18. Fouled out: None. 3-pointers: Grams 1, Hiller 3.

Hurley 18 51

Mercer 28 59

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