STM gets early start on playoffs

CHAMPAIGN — Rest is overrated.

St. Thomas More girls’ basketball team had that in abundance in recent weeks and was ready for some action.

“We had a long gap with no playing because of snow days,” junior Lexi Wallen said.

When the Sabers returned to the court on Saturday, coach Chris Mennig said, “We’d had nine days off.”

It showed.

“We had to get our legs back,” Wallen said. “I was dying after 10 minutes.”

Mennig had a chance to schedule a Monday home game against Chicago Mother McAuley — a Class 4A school that last week won the Girls Catholic Athletic Conference tournament — and he accepted the challenge.

So did his players.

“It was good to have a good game to start the playoff run,” Wallen said.

The Sabers (26-2) indeed had a good game. Finishing the home season with an unblemished record, St. Thomas More hit more than half of its shots from the field, held a 17-rebound edge and topped the Mighty Macs 73-49.

Tonight, STM travels to Bismarck-Henning for its Class 2A regional semifinal game against Oakwood.

“This definitely got us back,” said Wallen, who had a double-double (24 points, 10 rebounds). “These last two games were good to have.”

Mennig liked the timing of the Saturday-Monday sequence.

“We treated it like a regional format,” he said. “Play a game, have a day off, come back for the championship game. We’re trying to rebuild the momentum we had. Today was the championship game.”

McAuley (18-9) used its perimeter prowess (six of its 10 first-half baskets were three-pointers) to stay close early. STM went ahead for good, 11-10, on a three-pointer by Courtney Wax with 3 minutes, 43 seconds left in the first quarter.

The Sabers eventually built leads as large as 27 points. That might not be a good sign for Class 2A schools, especially since STM has not lost to a 2A opponent all season.

“We’re hungry and ready to go,” said Randa Harshbarger, who had 13 points, six rebounds, five assists and four steals.

“This was a sectional level, if not higher opponent,” Mennig said. “You can’t simulate that in practice. We’re excited to get playoff basketball started.”

All five STM starters scored at least eight points. Tori McCoy finished with 12 points, Wax had nine and Elizabeth Bristow added eight. Each starter also grabbed at least six rebounds.

Mennig especially liked what he saw when his starters weren’t on the court.

“It was pleasing to see a different set of bench players come in and get something done,” he said. “I liked the way we were sharing the basketball. Their defensive scheme was to hone in on Tori, and Lexi and Wax were able to find people without me saying too much.”

McCoy was not just the focal point of the Mighty Macs, but many of the estimated 300 spectators, some of whom were seeing the Sabers for the first time this season.

In one third-quarter sequence, the 6-foot-4 McCoy blocked a shot, grabbed the rebound and dribbled the length of the court, scoring on a breakaway.

“The multiple dimensions of her game are starting to come out,” Mennig said, “and she is having fun with the expansion of her game.”

St. Thomas More’s win was its 16th in a row, tying the school record set by last year’s team.
 

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