Calm freshman powers Sabers
ST. JOSEPH — Jason Schreder called it a senior moment. The St. Thomas More coach is just glad a certain Sabers freshman was called upon to deal with it.
With no time left in regulation and STM’s postseason life on the line Thursday night, Lexi Wallen stood all alone at the foul line with Prairie Central holding a 39-37 lead. If she missed either of her two free throw attempts, this Class 2A sectional title game — as well as the Sabers’ season — would be over.
“That’s got to be one of the toughest things to do in sports,” Schreder said. “You have to make both.”
With Hawks fans doing their best to rattle the freshman — and STM teammates and fans holding their breath — Wallen coolly sank each attempt to send the game to overtime and propel the never-say-die Sabers to a 53-44 triumph.
“Lexi being a freshman. she plays like a senior sometimes,” Schreder said. “That’s a senior moment right there so she was huge there.”
STM (27-5) trailed by six points entering the fourth quarter and never led at any point in the second half.
“That’s what I love about being a coach and being with these girls the whole season,” Schreder said. “They don’t give up until that final buzzer. And even then in overtime, they got right after it.”
Wallen scored 11 of her game-high 18 points in the fourth quarter and overtime. Six of those points came at the foul line, where the freshman found herself after grabbing a rebound under her own basket and being fouled as the clock clicked to 0:00 in regulation.
Wallen took it from there. As the rest of the players moved to the other side of half court, she took a moment to collect herself before shooting the two most important shots of her young career.
“For the past few games I’ve been pretty off on free throws, like air-balling a few here and there,” Wallen said. “So before I took the shot I just took a moment, took deep breaths, looked at the basket and imagined the ball going in the basket.
“And I think that really helped.”
In overtime, the Sabers received a major boost from reserve forward Brooke Schmidt. After starter Sierra Myerscough fouled out with 1:15 left in the fourth quarter, Schmidt came off the bench and scored seven of STM’s 14 points in OT.
“We talk about every girl is going to have a special moment,” Schreder said. “Everybody’s got to step up. And Brooke had a lot of big shots down the stretch. She made some huge free throws.”
With their eighth victory in a row, the streaking Sabers clinched the school’s first sectional crown in girls’ basketball.
“Definitely the best win ever so far,” Wallen said.
Next up for STM is top-ranked Quincy Notre Dame at 7:30 p.m. Monday in a super-sectional at Millikin University in Decatur. QND steamrolled Williamsville 90-28 on Thursday in the Beardstown Sectional final.
Prairie Central, which went 0-2 against the Sabers this season, finished with a 21-9 record. Sarah Oprondek led the Hawks with 14 points, all but one after the first half.