STMA's Nicole Westrum, left, and Wayzata's Reilly Johnson competed for control of a rebound.
Finishing close contests had been a challenge for Wayzata entering Friday night's matchup of two of Class 4A's top 10 girls' basketball teams. The Trojans, however, finally found the right combination on the floor of St. Michael-Albertville.
No. 8 Wayzata went on a 9-2 run in the final three minutes and survived a last-second heave from Erin Autio to secure a 54-51 victory over the 10th-ranked Knights.
Coming off an overtime loss in the championship of the Hill-Murray tournament, the Trojans relied on quickness to grab the late edge and their 10th victory of the season. Reilly Johnson scored her final two of 19 points on an inbounds play under the basket with 23 seconds left to give Wayzata the final lead.
"Katie [Schulz] cut, and my defender went with her, so I was open," said Johnson, who also had 10 rebounds. "I knew I had to step it up."
Wayzata lost starting guard Kiana Nickel midway through the first half. Nickel suffered a serious mouth injury after colliding with a pair of STMA players. Her presence was missed in the second half as the Trojans struggled to create open looks. Schulz and Summer Johnson (11 points each) carried the load after her departure, doing most of the ball-handling and scoring.
"It's tough when you lose a guard that is usually in the flow of things and is strong," Schulz said. "We were frustrated at the beginning, too, but we picked it up."
The Knights led at the break 24-20 but lost the edge as their trouble with Lake Conference schools continues. St. Michael-Albertville's previous two losses were to Minnetonka and Edina in two of its past three games. Edina upset the host Knights in their holiday tournament final by two points.
Moral victories and close margins of defeat are no longer good enough for STMA, though.
"They're really good teams, but we always compete," Autio said after leading her team with 15 points and 11 rebounds. "We just have to take it into practice and work hard to get the close ones."