St. Thomas More tips cap to coach
CHAMPAIGN – St. Thomas More's girls' basketball team lost a game Wednesday night but scored points in the sportsmanship category.
Bloomington Central Catholic forced 18 first-half turnovers and built leads as large as 21 points en route to a 60-44 nonconference win against the Sabers.
After the final buzzer, St. Thomas More turned the microphone over to BCC Principal Joy Allen for an impromptu celebration in the Sabers' gymnasium.
Allen presented flowers and a ball to 10th-year head coach Debbie Coffman – a Prairie Central graduate – to commemorate her 200th career triumph.
St. Thomas More coach Chris Mennig had no qualms about allowing the visitors the floor.
"They are one of the classiest programs around, and we have a lot of respect for them," Mennig said. "We look at that school as a flagship to follow the way they have built themselves up in that community.
"Two years ago, we talked about climbing a mountain and trying to get a state championship. We're still making that climb, and to get there, we'll have to go through BCC. That program, for the surrounding area, is the cornerstone."
Coffman's 10th-ranked Saints are 9-1.
St. Thomas More (7-3) never led and created the only tie at 2-2 in the opening minute. By the 5:22 mark of the third period, BCC led 46-25. With Kassie Jones and Whitney Sullivan consistently driving to the basket, the Sabers whittled their deficit to 50-41 with 5 1/2 minutes to play.
"We couldn't stop the penetration," said the former Debbie Kessinger, a Chatsworth native who graduated from Prairie Central in 1988.
Sullivan hit a game-high 15 points. Jones had 10 of her 11 points after intermission. She had 10 rebounds and was the only player with a double-double.
Sullivan had a sterling all-around performance, adding six rebounds to team-high totals of four steals and two assists.
St. Thomas More shot 30.4 percent from the field, missed all seven three-point attempts and made half of its free throws (7 of 14) until going 3 for 4 in the final 1:06.
"Our shooting has been strong," Mennig said, "but we were playing against the strongest defense we've faced. This game was a barometer for us."
One bright spot for the Sabers was the play of 6-foot-4 sophomore Gina Hinders. In the first 12 minutes, Hinders had six points, four rebounds and two blocks. Teammate Maggie Fitzgerald totaled seven rebounds.
"Gina had one of her best first halves," said Mennig, who would like it if at some future time another school might be as gracious as St. Thomas More was Wednesday. "I can only hope I'm sitting in that position (200 career wins) seven or eight years from now," he added.
Iroquois West tournament
The host Raiders (4-12) upended Elgin Academy (5-11) 51-36 in the consolation finals behind a 14-point, six-rebound performance from Ashley Bayston. In another game, Patricia Edris' 18 points led Milford past Fieldcrest 55-41.