CHAMPAIGN — A 12-0 deficit for the Gold Team nearly 8 minutes into Sunday’s News-Gazette/Parkland College girls’ all-star basketball showcase didn’t concern the players on the team that was scoreless.
“This is the best of the best in central Illinois,” Rantoul’s Hannah Wascher said. “Anything can happen.”
Nor did a 13-point lead for the Gold Team bring a feeling of confidence with less than 15 minutes remaining in the second annual contest held at Parkland’s Dodds Athletic Center.
“It was a typical all-star game,” St. Thomas More coach Chris Mennig said. “These kids on both teams are competitors. In the last 10 minutes, instincts take over.”
Before Mennig’s Gold Team salvaged a 64-59 victory, it had to watch a 41-28 second-half lead turn into a two-point deficit in the final 41/2 minutes before Wascher — the game’s Most Valuable Player — took control down the stretch.
Wascher, a Parkland College recruit who broke the all-star game rebounding record by grabbing 15 boards (seven on the offensive end), wasn’t surprised by her team’s slow getaway.
“We didn’t practice at all,” Wascher said. “It took me a while to get into it. What fun to throw a team together and come in here and get the win.”
With the game tied 56-56, Wascher’s rebound putback lifted the Gold into the lead for good. Twelve seconds after that rebound basket — with 2:06 remaining — she returned another missed shot for two points, and the 60-56 lead was enough for the victory.
Mennig had no doubts about Wascher’s intentions for the afternoon.
“She told me before the game, this wasn’t about fun, she wanted to win,” Mennig said.
The Black Team was within 61-59 when St. Thomas More’s Erica Wallen drilled a three-pointer to put the game out of reach with 46.1 seconds to play. Her trey ended the game’s scoring, putting the finishing touches on the 64-59 triumph.
“With all the threes she made, it made me second-guess where I played her four years in high school,” said Mennig. “Maybe I should have played her at guard.”
Wascher was one of four double-figure scorers for the Gold. Her game-high 15 points were followed by 14 from Prairie Central’s Gabby Weber and 10 each from Wallen and Champaign Central’s Laura Litchfield.
Bailey Trimble, from St. Joseph-Ogden, led the Black Team with 14 points. She made two three-pointers and hit nine second-half points. Teammates Chelsea Cross (13 points) and Katelynn Martinez (10 points) — both from Centennial — also reached double figures for the Black.
“None of us really knew each other,” Trimble said. “We played pretty good for not having practiced together.”
She didn’t mind leaving the comfort zone of teammates she’d grown accustomed to throughout the season.
“I like playing with different people,” Trimble said. “I love basketball. I wish there were more than two all-star games.”
Trimble was on the winning team last month when athletes from the Sangamon Valley Conference defeated an all-star unit from the Heart of Illinois.
As for the extended runs each team took, Trimble said, “we just took turns being tired.”
Trimble and Lizzy Smith, from Villa Grove (who won the halftime three-point shooting contest by hitting 10 of 15 shots) each nailed three-point shots in the opening 7 minutes as the Black Team built a 12-0 lead.
“In a game like this, everyone can score and everyone can rebound,” Litchfield said. “We had to keep attacking the basket and start getting stops.”
Litchfield hasn’t yet selected the college where she’ll play next year and that has pushed her to work hard since the high school basketball season ended.
“I try not to let a day go by where I’m not in the gym or weight training,” Litchfield said.
Her efforts show, Mennig said.
“Laura likes to control the pace of the game and when you watch her from afar, when the ball is in her hands, 7 of 10 times something good happens,” Mennig said.
The Gold Team’s largest lead came on a breakaway by Wascher with 15:50 left in the second half, 41-28.
“It was a lot of fun to play with these girls, a lot of whom I’d played against,” Wascher said, “and it really felt good to win.”
Spectator attendance at Sunday’s all-star series was estimated at 500 fans between the two games.
Fred Kroner’s random thoughts
ONLY IN AN ALL-STAR GAME
Let’s say things were a bit relaxed Sunday at Parkland College. Centennial’s Susan Thomas, coach of the Black Team, called a timeout and it was granted. The only problem was that the Gold Team was bringing the ball upcourt. It worked out fine as both teams only wanted to send in substitutions.
LET THEM PLAY
That wasn’t a shout from fans to the referees. It was the mantra of both all-star coaches, Thomas and St. Thomas More’s Chris Mennig. Virtually every time substitutions were made it was five players coming in for another five. Great to see that playing time was so well-distributed.
SPRINGING FOR A GOOD CAUSE
It was wonderful to see that athletes involved in a spring sport were willing to take a break from that activity to suit up for another basketball game. Among those who did so: Centennial soccer players Katelynn Martinez and Chantal Meacham, Urbana Uni High track and field athlete Emma Hoyer, Arthur-Lovington/Atwood-Hammond softball player Ashley Tabb, Mahomet-Seymour softball player Kristen Belyea and Villa Grove softball player Lizzy Smith.