GILMAN — St. Thomas More, the top-ranked girls’ team in Class 2A, took one for the road.
The Sabers, who are in their final season in the Sangamon Valley Conference, got off to a fast start en route to the conference tournament title, defeating Watseka 61-23. It was STM’s seventh title in nine years and Watseka’s third straight trip to the championship game.
“Any time you play an opponent like that, you obviously have to bring your ‘A’ game to stand a chance,” Watseka coach Rebecca Swigert said. “That’s an awesome opportunity that a lot of teams in the state don’t get. At the same time, we’re OK with this being their last (tournament) game in the SVC. I’m not too heartbroken about that.”
STM started the game on a 16-4 run as six points apiece from Tori McCoy and Randa Harshbarger led the Sabers to a 16-7 lead at the end of the first quarter. Six more points from Harshbarger helped the team race to a 30-10 advantage in the second quarter before going into halftime with a 30-12 lead.
The scoring barrage from Harshbarger continued with seven points in the third quarter, and she finished the game with 19 points.
“There’s this old adage in basketball that goes that you normally are only going to go as far as your seniors can take you,” STM coach Chris Mennig said. “This is probably one of the best teams I’ve ever had in terms of setting the tone early from the beginning of the game, and I felt like they did that yet again (Wednesday night).”
While McCoy added 12 points and Courtney Wax and Lexi Wallen contributed 11 and eight points, respectively, Mennig said he was glad to see bench players such as Angie Bolton — who finished with five points after getting into the game in the fourth quarter — get some quality minutes.
“To see some other younger body being able to slide in there was nice to see,” Mennig said. “It’s just nice to see other kids ready when they might be called upon.”
For Watseka, Devin Curry led with 10 points four days after a 29-point performance in the semifinals against Paxton-Buckley-Loda.
“I thought she gutted it out,” Swigert said. “They obviously focused in on her with one or two people on her at all times, and I thought she did a pretty nice job.”
Swigert said she was happy to see a better defensive effort than the team showed in its last meeting.
“The first time we played them, we just gave up way too many easy layups,” Swigert said. “It was a focus of ours to make them have to earn their points. We did a much better job with that (Wednesday night).”
Third-place game: IW 41, PBL 32
It took a while for Iroquois West, the third-ranked team in Class 1A, to get going.
PBL took a 9-6 lead at the end of the first quarter. The Raiders rebounded with some tough defense en route to a victory, outscoring the Panthers 13-2 and 9-2 in the second and third quarters, respectively.
“We haven’t been able to practice over the past few days, so we were a bit rusty and slow,” IW coach Kristy Arie said. “I was happy with our effort on defense, which allowed us to get some baskets in transition.”
Skylar Small and Taylor Cultra led Iroquois West (19-2) with 11 points each.
Small’s sister, Morgan, saw some playing time off the bench because she is recovering from injury.
“It was nice to get her some minutes,” Arie said. “We’ll have to see how she is after she plays a few more games.”
For PBL (9-12), Kellyn Maynard led with 16 points and tied Kirstin Schnabel for the team lead in rebounds with six.
“I’m proud of the girls. There were plenty of times when we could have folded there, but we didn’t,” PBL coach Clarissa Gross-Michalak said. “We started off excellent, but you can’t beat any good teams when you only score two points in one quarter. We didn’t shoot with any confidence. We just kept hoping (our shots) went in.”
SJ-O 51, Cissna Park 49. Alyssa Beals had 16 points and Aysia Jacobs 17 for St. Joseph-Ogden. The Timberwolves were led by Addison Stoller and Alexis Knake, who each scored 17 points.