Watseka, STM reach SVC title game
CHAMPAIGN — Reaching the 2,000-point milestone apparently was not enough for Watseka’s Devin Curry.
Five days after reaching the milestone, her 29 points in Saturday’s Sangamon Valley Conference semifinal game at Parkland College led the Warriors to a 42-32 win against Paxton-Buckley-Loda.
“People want to sit there in awe over Curry and wonder how she’s so good. She lives in the gym,” PBL coach Clarissa Gross-Michalak said. “She’s a prime example of what it takes to be successful. It takes being a gym rat — sleeping with the basketball.”
Included in her 29-point gem was a pair of third-quarter three-pointers that broke a 24-24 tie and gave Watseka a 30-24 lead heading into the fourth quarter. She proceeded to score nine points in the fourth quarter as the Warriors outscored PBL 12-8, including a 12-4 run that ended the game.
Natalie Castonguay, who finished with four points, was a key player defensively for the Warriors, Watseka coach Rebecca Swigert said.
“She definitely took over the game,” Swigert said. “We needed that. PBL did a good job defensively. Natalie’s ball pressure also kind of helped get the momentum back in our favor.”
The sixth-seeded Panthers, who knocked off third-seeded St. Joseph-Ogden 27-22 five nights earlier, led by as many as six points through most of the game’s first three quarters against the second-seeded Warriors.
“I’m proud of our girls,” Gross-Michalak said. “If you would have told me in December that we would have been this close with (Watseka) tonight, I might have had some doubt, but I really feel like we’ve really come together here lately. Beating St. Joe wasn’t a fluke.”
Kellyn Maynard led PBL with 11 points — including seven in a first quarter that the Panthers ended with a 13-9 lead — and recorded five rebounds and three steals. Watseka will face St. Thomas More in the championship game at a date, time and location to be determined.
“We’ll be ready,” Swigert said. “I don’t know when the game is, but we’ll be ready whenever it will be.”
PBL, meanwhile, will face Iroquois West — which beat the Panthers twice in the regular season, including a 51-44 result Dec. 5 at Paxton.
“Obviously, we’ll have a scouting report ready for the girls so that they know what to expect, but we have to do what we do best, and that’s playing our style of basketball. It’s a winnable game for us,” Gross-Michalak said. “The girls have just got to believe it.”
St. Thomas More 67, IW 43. An extra two days off did not affect top-seeded STM, which earned a berth in its last SVC tournament championship with a win against fourth-seeded Iroquois West.
The Sabers opened a 20-2 lead with a transition offense led by eight points from Liz Bristow and Tori McCoy en route to ending the quarter with a 22-6 advantage. Bristow scored six of her points on and-1 opportunities that extended STM’s leads to 9-2 and 20-2.
“It was good to see since we haven’t been able to play a game since Monday. You never know how they’ll respond,” STM coach Chris Mennig said. “Any time you play at (Parkland), you always hope it’s for a championship, but we’ll try to see if we can keep our title run going whatever night it is that we finally get to play in our last (SVC) tournament championship.”
McCoy ended the first half, after which the Sabers led 40-16, with a team-high 12 points, while Bristow added 11 points. McCoy finished with a double-double — a game-high 18 points and 11 rebounds — as did Lexi Wallen (12 points, 11 rebounds).
In the third quarter, a more conservative defensive approach led to the Sabers allowing only two points as they went into the fourth quarter leading 61-18.
“I thought in the second quarter, we took a few too many gambles. We were a little too thirsty on defense trying to steal everything instead of containing and letting them make mistakes, but I thought we did a lot better job of that in the third quarter,” Mennig said.
With STM’s starters resting on the bench, the Raiders outscored the Sabers 25-6 in the fourth quarter. Elena Sanchez and Andrea Fuoss led IW with 13 and 12 points, respectively.
“They kept fighting to the end, and that’s all you can ask for,” Raiders coach Kristy Arie said. “STM’s a good team, but we kind of beat ourselves in the first half. We didn’t take care of the basketball in the first half.”
Going into the SVC title game against Watseka, Mennig said he knows his team will have to focus a bulk of its defensive effort on Curry.
“The old saying goes that you normally go as far as your seniors will take you,” Mennig said. “Devin’s obviously the heart and soul of that team, so it’ll come down to how big her shoulders are to be able to carry the load for them.”
IW, meanwhile, will go for the hat trick in its third-place game against PBL.
“We’ve seen PBL a couple of times,” Arie said. “They’re going to come out aggressive, so we’ve just got to be ready to play.”
SJ-O 46, Clifton Central 29. Katie Landis was the Spartans’ leading scorer in the consolation-bracket game with 16 points as SJ-O extended a 13-10 first-quarter lead with a 14-3 advantage to go into halftime leading 27-13.