EagleHerald/Brian Bell
Tessa Wagner of Carney-Nadeau shoots over a slew of Stephenson defenders in the first half of Wednesday’s MHSAA Division 4 district semifinal in Carney. Wagner finished the game with a triple double (23 points, 15 rebounds, 11 blocks).
EagleHerald/Brian Bell

Tessa Wagner of Carney-Nadeau shoots over a slew of Stephenson defenders in the first half of Wednesday’s MHSAA Division 4 district semifinal in Carney. Wagner finished the game with a triple double (23 points, 15 rebounds, 11 blocks).

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CARNEY — A dominant performance from Tessa Wagner and four free throws in the final 30 seconds of the game from Taylor Kedsch allowed the Carney-Nadeau girls basketball team to hold off a late comeback attempt from Stephenson to give the Wolves a 55-50 MHSAA Division 4 district semifinal victory.

Wagner — who did not have any big games in the season series with the Eagles as the teams won one game each — controlled the paint on both ends of the floor, recording a 23-point, 15-rebound (10 offensive), 11-block triple-double and allowed Stephenson no good looks at the basket on the inside.

“Carney played extremely well and their (Wagner), who really didn’t do a whole lot in the first two ball games, was just huge tonight,” Stephenson coach Jeff Sunstrom said. “Makayla (Johnson) tried the best she could against her, but she’s just a heck of a ball player.”

C-N held a 51-41 lead with 1 minute, 18 seconds left in the game after Haley Ernest sank a pair of free throws, but Stephenson refused to quit and Makayla Johnson answered with a quick 3-pointer from the right wing to cut the deficit to 51-44.

After the Wolves missed a shot and Stephenson grabbed the rebound, Paige Cappaert was fouled and sent to the line for a double-bonus try with 1:00 remaining. She sank both free throws to make it 51-46, and after C-N missed four-straight double-bonus free throws, Emily Johnson swished two for Stephenson to get within three (51-48) with 27.1 seconds left on the clock.

Enter Taylor Kedsch.

Kedsch came in the game late in the fourth quarter and after Johnson made her free throws, she received the inbound pass against a press from the Eagles and was fouled, sending her to the line for the first time all game with 32.1 seconds remaining.

She swished both, and after Stephenson’s Morgan Anderson made a basket on the other end Kedsch, was fouled again with 20.3 seconds left and a chance to put the game out of reach. For the second time in 12 seconds, she stepped up to the line and swished both free throws to take a 55-50 lead and send the Wolves to the district finals on Friday. To that point in the fourth quarter, C-N was 4-of-10 from the free throw line, so coach Ken Linder went to his bench to get a spark and Kedsch answered the call.

“I put (Taylor) in specifically because we were not hitting our free throws, and she came in and delivered. Those free throws hardly touched the net and I couldn’t be happier,” Linder said.

To start the game, C-N struggled to take the lid off the basket with its first points coming with 5:56 left in the first quarter, but Stephenson wasn’t able to score either as Wagner blocked three shots in the first three minutes to keep the Eagles scoreless.

Makayla Johnson’s basket made it 4-2 in favor of the Wolves with 5:00 remaining in the quarter and Emily Johnson followed with a 3-pointer from the wing to take a 5-4 Eagles and sparking a mini in-game 3-point contest.

The Wolves’ Giselle Laurila knocked down back-to-back triples, Stephenson’s Paige Cappaert answered with a 3-pointer from the wing but Laurila caught a pass at the top of the key and fired in her third straight trey to help C-N take a 13-8 lead. Another Cappaert 3-pointer ended the quarter as C-N took a 15-11 lead into the second.

Stephenson was able to hold Wagner to two points in the first quarter but did not have the same luck in the second as the 6-foot-5 C-N center used her size inside to clean up misses and finessed her way into some baskets in the post for 13-second quarter points.

On the defensive end, Wagner added four more blocks to her bring total to seven in the first half as C-N went out in front 33-19 at halftime.

“Tessa played incredibly well, I couldn’t have asked for a better game with the way she was able to control the paint on both ends of the floor,” Linder said.

The Eagles were able to make a comeback in the third quarter, cutting the lead to 39-32 at one point on a 3-pointer and fastbreak layup from Emily Johnson, but C-N finished the quarter with a basket from Sandra Boulton and then Wagner cleaned up a miss for a basket inside to give the Wolves a 43-32 lead heading in the fourth.

C-N’s lead stayed between 7-10 points until Stephenson made its final push in the final minute of the game.

Laurila scored 13 points to back up Wagner’s huge night and Boulton added nine. For Stephenson, Cappaert had the hot-hand with 16 points, Emily Johnson had 13 and Makayla Johnson chipped-in 11.

The Wolves will now play host to North Dickinson in Friday’s Division 4 district finals at 6 p.m.

STEPHENSON (50) — Cappaert 16, E. Johnson 13, M. Johnson 11, Schultz 4, Kuntze 3, Anderson 3. FTs: 12-19.

CARNEY-NADEAU (55) — Wagner 23, Laurila 13, Boulton 9, Ernest 4, Kedsch 4, Charlier 2. FTs: 10-25.

Halftime score: C-N 33, Stephenson 19