FISHER — The outside shooting of LeRoy prevailed against Fisher. The balance Iroquois West had wore down Schlarman.
Those contrasting styles that were on display Monday night at the Class 1A Fisher Sectional semifinals will clash during Thursday night’s sectional championship game between the Panthers, who placed fourth in state last year, and the Raiders, who haven’t won a sectional title since 2003.
“This is all new to us,” Iroquois West coach Kristy Arie said. “The girls got to see what they’re facing on Thursday. This was the first time (on Monday) that I’ve seen LeRoy play, but we’re just going to go out and enjoy every moment of this.”
Iroquois West 55, Schlarman 44
Having seen her team’s 11-point halftime lead trimmed to four in the first 100 seconds of the second half, Courtney Conrad knew Iroquois West needed to make a few plays.
The senior guard provided them.
Conrad scored five straight points to stretch Iroquois West’s lead to 39-30 with 4:25 left in the third quarter, which proved vital as Schlarman nearly pulled off a fourth-quarter rally.
“The third quarter has always been our weak spot,” said Conrad, who scored her five points on a three-pointer and a jump shot within a 50-second span. “We knew we had to get the momentum back on our side so we could finish strong. We were ecstatic to win the regional. We’re overwhelmed. It’s crazy to think that we’re here.”
Conrad filled the role of steady senior leader on a Raiders team dominated by underclassmen. Sophomore guard Elena Sanchez paced Iroquois West with 14 points, including six of the final eight points after Schlarman had whittled its deficit to 47-42 on a layup by Holly Huckstadt with 3:25 left.
Sophomore Taylor Cultra (14 points, six rebounds, three blocks) and freshman Andrea Fuoss (seven points, nine rebounds) contributed down low for the Raiders (21-9).
“We were excited to have fresh meat on our team,” said Conrad, one of two seniors Iroquois West used Monday night. “We played together before in middle school when they were brought up. The new intensity has brought us together as a team.”
Freshman Sierra Bell scored a game-high 19 points and junior Janelle Marion chipped in 12 points and 11 rebounds, but the double-digit lead Iroquois West built in the first half was too much to overcome for the Hilltoppers (21-10).
“I’m proud of them because they played extremely hard,” Schlarman coach Keith Peoples said. “It wasn’t the smartest down the stretch, but I can live with those mistakes with a young team.”
LeRoy 45, Fisher 24
Alyssa Aupperle didn’t contribute to last year’s state run for the Panthers. She couldn’t. She was in eighth grade.
The freshman guard made sure LeRoy is only two wins away from playing at Redbird Arena in Normal again. She poured in a career-high 24 points on the strength of 7-of-12 shooting from beyond the arc.
“Once I hit the first one, I just did the same thing the rest of the time,” Aupperle said. “They happened to fall.”
The Bunnies (17-14) wanted to contain LeRoy senior starters Lauren Russell and Shannon Steffen. Fisher did, liming the duo to only five points by Steffen, but Aupperle more than made up the difference.
“We wanted to definitely run (Russell) off the three-point line, and we did, and we were concerned about Steffen’s penetration,” Fisher coach Ken Ingold said. “We carried out the game plan just the way we wanted. If somebody was going to beat us, it wasn’t going to be those two. Aupperle beat us.”
LeRoy (20-9) put the game away in the third quarter, outscoring Fisher 9-0 in the final 1:20 on three straight three-pointers by Aupperle and increase LeRoy’s lead to 36-16.
“We’ve been waiting for a breakout game, and tonight was an awesome one for her to come out,” LeRoy coach Danielle Cooley said. “It was so much fun. I wanted to jump up and down in the third quarter, but I had a game to focus on. I was incredibly proud of her.”
LeRoy’s defense made matters tough for Fisher. The Bunnies only shot 6 of 33 from the field (18 percent) and committed 21 turnovers. Junior Caitlin Cole led Fisher with 10 points, 15 rebounds and four blocked shots.
“We have 12 girls that have bought in to playing really good defense,” Cooley said. “You can live and die by the three, and When we’re not great shooters, we need to rely on our defense.”