CLINTON — It was a girls’ basketball game between two parochial high schools.
For St. Thomas More coach Chris Mennig, it was really much more.
“They are the mountain for me,” Mennig said. “What Debbie (Kessinger Coffman) has been able to build has been the goal for us since the moment I set foot on the STM campus.”
Coffman’s Bloomington Central Catholic squads have won at least 20 games in 13 of the last 14 seasons and reached consecutive state championship games in 2010 and 2011.
Mennig’s Sabers are seeking their second consecutive title-game appearance in 2A.
A strong second half Thursday night enabled the Sabers (30-2) to advance into the Elite Eight with a 79-56 sectional-championship triumph against the Saints (21-9).
“I was more nervous than the kids,” Mennig said. “I was nervous for the jersey they were wearing, knowing the long-standing history of that program and for us being on the other side of the scoreboard for so long.”
Liz Bristow helped STM expand a 30-22 halftime lead into a 61-36 margin after three quarters. The teams were tied at 12 in the second quarter.
Bristow scored 15 of her 21 points in the third period. She also had 10 rebounds. Two other Sabers had double-doubles.
Lexi Wallen had 24 points and 10 rebounds. Tori McCoy had 21 points and 16 rebounds. Bristow hit 9 of 12 free throws.
“We’ve talked from the beginning about rising to the occasion, embracing the moment and not being afraid of the moment,” Mennig said. “They’ve done everything I’ve asked of them. Our focus and intensity in the third quarter really shined through.”
St. Thomas More will face Riverton at 7 p.m. Monday in the Decatur Super-Sectional at Millikin University.
“Hopefully, Monday we can finish it off and put ourselves back where we were last year,” Mennig said.
Randa Harshbarger had team-high totals of six steals (five in the second half) and five assists. The senior point guard scored six points.
Mennig has special plans for Friday. “Film and pizza,” he said. “Saturday we’ll get back in the gym.”