SOUTH SIOUX CITY | All McKenna Sims could do in the first half was sit on the bench and cheer.

Seated on the bench after recording her third personal foul of the game about a minute into the second quarter, the South Sioux City point guard saw her teammates step up in the first half, especially on defense.

Sims erupted for 19 second-half points, 12 of those in the game’s final seven minutes, as the Class B top-ranked Cardinals rolled to a 63-40 win over Omaha Mercy Monday night at the Mini-Dome. Marybeth Rasmussen scored eight of her 10 points in the first half, helping Coach Molly Hornbeck’s 5-0 squad take a 21-17 lead.

“It was frustrating, but there was nothing I could do about it,” said Sims, who entered the game with a 19.8 scoring average. “You can’t reverse the ref’s call. So I guess you have to keep cheering your team on. That’s what I tried to do, keep the team up and help push them through everything.”

“Her getting in early foul trouble and being such a good player for us, that hurts us as a team,” said Hornbeck. “I think it was a good learning experience for our team as a whole. I thought the girls did a nice job of shouldering the load. But it was nice to have (Sims) back.”

Defense was the theme for both teams as the game progressed. Mercy’s Laura Salerno, a 6-foot senior post with 14 points and 11 rebounds, was a defensive presence who made shooting under the basket very difficult for a South Sioux City squad that overcame 28.5 percent first-half shooting.

South Sioux City forced 31 turnovers. Tiffany Tinker was among the defensive stars for the Cardinals, recording eight steals and two blocked shots while Rasmussen and Kyra Fischer added seven and five steals, respectively.

South Sioux City scored 19 points off turnovers. This particular factor was how Sims got her offense back in the third quarter as she scored a basket after a Taryn Christensen steal, then she hit the first of her three three-point baskets after a Rasmussen steal for a 26-19 lead.

“We did a good job of flying around and getting steals, but we missed 29 two-point attempts,” said Hornbeck. “I told the girls if you’re going to work that hard defensively, you have to capitalize. It’s good to know we can miss bunnies like that and play a little sloppy and still come out with a win, but we’re going to need to clean that up as we go along.”

Mercy was still within 37-31 late in the third quarter, but Fischer (7 third-quarter points) hit a basket to start a 3-0 run in the frame’s final 30 seconds. The Cardinals continued to stretch the lead as Sims assisted on a Christensen basket following a Fischer steal while Sims later added a basket for a 44-31 lead.

“Keeping up the energy is what helped us the most,” said Sims. “I thought our defense was pretty good. Everybody was down about how many layups we missed in the first half. Nothing was going our way, but we pushed through, all of us. I’m very proud of our team.”

Trista Harsma scored 12 points and Ella Meyers added 10 for South Sioux City’s junior varsity, which also improved to 5-0 following a 49-28 win.

South Sioux City will play at Sioux Falls Lincoln tonight.

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