State awaits 'special' group of Spartans

State awaits 'special' group of Spartans

PONTIAC — As Bree Trimble's teammates celebrated around her, the St. Joseph-Ogden girls' basketball senior grabbed at her upper lip in a minor state of shock.

The Class 2A Pontiac Super-Sectional plaque — the second such piece of hardware in program history — had just struck Trimble in the chops.

"I was still holding it down, and they all yanked up," Trimble said. "I instantly thought I was bleeding, but they said you can't see anything. So it's OK, but I can definitely feel it."

Trimble shouldn't have a problem using her excitement and adrenaline to overcome any resulting soreness.

The 5-foot-9 standout roared to 26 points on the back of a strong transition game and shifty post cuts, guiding the Spartans to a historic 58-35 triumph over Chicago Christian on Monday and pushing SJ-O to its second-ever state tournament berth.

"Oh, my gosh, I'm so excited," said Spartans senior Peyton Crowe, who dashed to 12 points. "We're just going to keep on preparing for whoever comes next, and we're ready for whatever is thrown at us."

The Spartans (28-4) proved as much versus the Knights (24-10), whose roster boasted just eight players and couldn't keep pace with the up-tempo SJ-O attack.

"We thought we could run the floor on them, and we wanted to run," Spartans coach Kevin Taylor said. "We knew we were deeper than them, and we wanted to make sure we made their big ... run the floor."

That would be 6-1 junior Kelsey Wolterink, who used her size advantage to rack up 14 points. But after she banked 10 of those in the first two quarters, the Spartans shifted their defensive strategy and kept not only Wolterink, but the rest of the Chicago Christian offense, from truly threatening.

There were signs SJ-O could pull away before halftime, as the Spartans went on a 7-0 run to break a tie and head into the locker room up 25-18.

"I kind of saw the wheels coming off toward the end of that second quarter," Knights coach Karl Frixen said. "They were just running out of gas there."

And SJ-O kept pounding away. Trimble nailed six field goals over the last two frames. Five Spartans tallied their first bucket in the latter 16 minutes. And the girls in white and maroon outrebounded their opponent by a 14-6 margin during that same stretch.

"We knew that we had to keep the pedal down," Crowe said, "and get the rest of it done."

Though SJ-O girls' hoops isn't accustomed to postseason runs as deep as this, Trimble advanced to state in 2016 as part of the Spartan volleyball squad. So she had some experience on which to draw when it came time to handle the emotions associated with this moment.

"We were very humble," Trimble said. "We knew that the St. Joseph-Ogden girls' basketball team has never (placed at) state, so it was like, we're here, we're at supers. We have to finish, and we have to get (to state)."

SJ-O is in the Illini Prairie Conference with Pontiac, but the Spartans' most recent tilt in this gymnasium came last season.

It ended poorly for the visitors, with Crowe recalling a loss to the Indians "cost(ing) us a conference title."

"Coming in here, we kind of didn't really like this gym," Crowe said. "But I feel like now, we pretty much love it."

Another locale they're also likely to swoon over is Normal's Redbird Arena, in which they'll take on Teutopolis (31-4) at 7:15 p.m. on Friday in the state semifinals

The Wooden Shoes placed third in state in 2018 and thumped SJ-O 72-39 on Dec. 6.

Those Spartans aren't the same as this current crop, though. A little more than two months later, they've stepped up and rattled off 15 consecutive wins.

Who's to say they can't run that streak to 17 this weekend?

"I'm really happy for the girls," Taylor said. "They've worked hard all year. This is a special moment, and I hope they enjoy it."