NORMAL — Tori McCoy’s television debut was Emmy-worthy.
The 6-foot-4 freshman was the dominant force from the opening tip Friday night as St. Thomas More handed El Paso-Gridley a 62-48 Class 2A state semifinal loss in the IHSA state tournament at Illinois State’s Redbird Arena.
Her starring moment came in the final minute of the third period. McCoy blocked a shot, gathered the rebound and took it downcourt herself for a breakaway layup.
They were two of the nine points she scored in the third quarter.
Afterward — like in each of the team’s first 34 games — she was unavailable for comment at the request of her parents. The Sabers’ other four starters joined coach Chris Mennig in the interview room.
McCoy finished with 24 points and 13 rebounds. In the first half, she wowed the crowd with a left-handed hook shot from the lane. McCoy hit 10 of 12 shots in the game telecast over the IHSA Network.
Sounds of Nashville. Nashville (32-2) earned its berth in the title game by overpowering Walther Lutheran 50-29. Shaye Harre scored 19 points and teammate Shawn Rennegarbe had 10 points and seven rebounds.
Nashville (32-2) had been 0-4 in previous state semifinal games since a runner-up finish in 1990.
Best freshman, best sophomore. St. Thomas More players received three of the 15 first-team selections on the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association’s combined 1A/2A all-state team.
The Sabers’ selections included the only freshman first-teamer — McCoy — and the only sophomore first-teamer — Lexi Wallen. Junior teammate Randa Harshbarger also was chosen for the first team.
Two area athletes were picked for the IBCA’s 15-player second team: Argenta-Oreana senior Kandie Bloch, a 2,100-point career scorer who is going to the University of Illinois on a track scholarship, and Watseka junior Devin Curry.
Another Saber, senior Jade Brinkoetter, was the lone area representative on the 20-player third team. LeRoy senior Lauren Russell earned honors on the 20-player fourth team.
A total of 69 other state athletes were listed as special mention. The five seniors from the area who were recognized: St. Joseph-Ogden’s Ashley Landis, Villa Grove’s Lizzy Smith, LeRoy’s Shannon Steffen, Tuscola’s Erin Weaver and Paxton-Buckley-Loda’s Amanda Ypya.
Two area juniors, Iroquois West’s Morgan Small and Clinton’s Haley Toohill, were honored as were Clinton sophomore Haley Ginger and Schlarman freshman Sierra Bell.
Elite area refs. Three area officials from the Champaign-based Illini Basketball Officials Association were assigned to work games in the girls’ state tournament.
Savoy’s Kevin Peters, in his third appearance at state, worked Friday’s 1A semifinal opener, where Freeport Aquin rallied in the final quarter to edge Annawan 39-38.
Rantoul’s Brad Parrish and Gibson City’s Rich Doman will work next weekend’s 3A/4A state finals, also at Illinois State University’s Redbird Arena. Parrish is making his second trip to state. Doman will be a third-time state official.
Cheering from afar. Former Illini coach Theresa Grentz — who had a son, Kevin, graduate from St. Thomas More — had planned to be in the stands to watch her former assistant, Mennig, direct the Sabers.
A recent illness, however, prevented her from traveling. Grentz and Mennig talk frequently, though it’s seldom about X’s and O’s.
“He’s very, very well-versed in what he wants to run and how he wants to do it,” Grentz said. “We talk philosophy, concepts. Chris is close to me, and the conversations are two friends catching up.”
Grentz said she never doubted that Mennig would be a successful head coach.
“He is very passionate and very disciplined in his passion,” Grentz said. “He is definitely someone who studies the game. When he was with us, he was always learning new things and always trying to pick up what was happening. I am very proud to see what he has done.”
Zindars places fourth. In her first two years in high school, Armstrong-Potomac’s Morgan Zindars never advanced past the sectional level in the three-point shooting contest.
As a junior, she was one of four girls competing to be the Class 1A three-point champion Friday. Zindars was the leadoff shooter and hit 5 of 15 shots. The winner was Rockford Christian Life’s Jessica Moriarty, the repeat champion.
“Being the first shooter is nerve-racking,” Zindars said. “You have to put a number (to beat) out there.”
As the shooters face the basket, a TV camera is focused on them.
“That makes it worse,” Zindars said, “but you can’t pay attention to that.”
During the season, Zindars hit a team-high 41 three-pointers for the Trojans. She didn’t feel completely at ease at state.
“Nerves got to me,” she said. “I just wanted to shoot and represent my school. I hope to be back next year and bring my teammates along (as one of the competing schools).”
Press-row visitor. Seated at the end of the front row of the media section was UI women’s coach Matt Bollant. He was watching all four of the state semifinal games, paying particular interest to the finale that featured St. Thomas More and its Division I prospect, McCoy. Bollant also saw the Sabers in a mid-January home game against Chicago Whitney Young.
Between sessions Friday, Bollant didn’t dine at an area restaurant. Instead, he stayed at Redbird Arena and watched film of today’s UI opponent, Indiana, a team the Illini have not yet played this season.