Spartans, Warriors to vie for title

Spartans, Warriors to vie for title

GIBSON CITY — Kevin Taylor's program possessed multiple advantages entering Monday's Class 2A Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley Sectional semifinals.

A pair of career 1,000-point scorers in Bree Trimble and Peyton Crowe.

Success against a challenging schedule, leading the Spartans to No. 4 in The Associated Press voting panel's last regular-season rankings.

And experience at this stage of the postseason, having been here three times over the last four years.

But SJ-O's opponent, host Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley, brought something to the table that briefly threw the Spartans off their game.

"Their crowd was ready," Spartans coach Kevin Taylor said. "I'm not sure if we were surprised, but their crowd was loud."

SJ-O, though, eventually proved why it keeps making these sorts of postseason runs.

Trimble, Maclayne Taylor and Hannah Dukeman each reached double figures scoring as the Spartans eclipsed the Falcons 53-38 and advanced to the sectional championship tilt.

"We hung in there," Taylor said. "We just stayed with what we wanted to do and just executed better."

SJ-O (26-4) initially fell behind 8-0 as GCMS (24-6) thrived in the raucous Ford County facility.

"It was a great crowd," Falcons boss Keri Dornbusch said. "The community really came out to support the girls. ... My assistant coach helps me out yelling things for me, and he lost his voice."

Once the Spartans regained their composure, as Taylor described it, they slowly but surely pulled away from the Falcons.

Dukeman, as she did in last week's regional final versus Salt Fork, buoyed the SJ-O offense early. The junior drilled a pair of three-pointers and hit two free throws to generate two-thirds of the Spartans' first-period points, finishing with 12 points overall.

"She's a good leader for us," Taylor said of Dukeman. "Obviously, she's planning on playing softball somewhere, but she is important to our team."

Trimble and Taylor began chipping away over the final three quarters. All but two of Trimble's game-high 16 points came after the first frame, and Taylor spread out her 14 points over the last 24 minutes.

"Both teams went on runs, and they just happened to have one more than us," Dornbusch said. "We gave up some offensive rebounds, more than we would like, so that definitely made a difference."GCMS received 12 points from Makenzie Bielfeldt and another eight points apiece from Claire Retherford and Megan Moody. The Falcons hit just five field goals in the second half as their first loss in the last six outings signaled the end of their campaign.

GCMS hadn't advanced past a regional since 2005, so even as the Falcons walked off their court out of the playoff picture, Dornbusch still brought the situation into a positive light.

"It's very disappointing to lose," she said, "but it's not disappointing when you play that hard."

SJ-O lived to fight another day — that being Thursday, when it takes on Watseka at 7 p.m. in search of a first sectional championship since 2007.

"They've got another big post (player), so we'll have to be ready for that," Taylor said. "It'll be a good challenge for us."

Watseka 45, Bismarck-Henning/Rossville-Alvin 39. Mallory Drake recorded five conversions from beyond the arc in the first half, finishing with an event-best 19 points as the Warriors outlasted the Blue Devils in another Class 2A GCMS Sectional semifinal.

"We turned the ball over a little early, then we really gained our composure and took care of the ball the remainder of the game," Watseka coach Barry Bauer said. "We distributed the ball and found the open person and didn't force things."

Drake rolled to 17 points before halftime thanks to her deep-shooting prowess for the Warriors (26-3). The senior averages around 10 points a night, but can be overshadowed by teammates Kennedy Bauer, Magan Harris and Natalie Schroeder in the scoring column.

"It's happened a few times against good teams," Barry Bauer said of Drake's big showing. "We're confident with anyone we have on the floor."

Kennedy Bauer collected another 14 points and 10 rebounds for Watseka, which also hit 10 of 15 free-throw attempts.

In its first sectional since 2010, BHRA (27-7) earned 18 points from Emily Meidel and 13 more from Hunter Edwards.

"We really struggled shooting the ball," Blue Devils leader Mike Stephens said. "It's not a character issue. Some nights you just don't shoot it well. Quite honestly, the way we shot it, I think we should've gotten beaten by 15 or 20 points."

That trademark BHRA defense was the reason its deficit didn't spiral out of control. The Blue Devils pulled within six points of the Warriors with less than four minutes to play, but just couldn't cut down their deficit any further.

"They played really well," Stephens said. "Their plan was solid, and we really got hurt by Drake on threes."

Watseka now is in the Sweet 16 for just the second time in program history. For the AP's No. 8 squad in Class 2A, getting past St. Joseph-Ogden would make this postseason one to remember.

"They're an outstanding team," Barry Bauer said. "You can tell they have a lot of senior leadership and experience on the floor. They're a well-balanced team, a lot like us, so it should be a good game."

-