STM cruises into sectional final
CLINTON — Finally, some drama for St. Thomas More.
The state’s top-ranked Class 2A girls’ basketball team had to survive a frantic start, but finished strong on Tuesday, polishing off Watseka for the third time this season, 60-30, in a sectional semifinal.
The Sabers (29-2) enjoyed a quick getaway on the court after having an even quicker getaway leaving Champaign. Four players — two of whom were starting — didn’t bring the right set of uniforms.
“It was a disaster,” Liz Bristow said. “Four of us were in tears.”
Bristow suited up in a spare uniform the team carried for emergencies while her grandmother returned home to get her away jersey. Hannah Murray got that uniform by the midway mark of the first quarter.
“If anybody knows anything about uniform drama, it would be us,” STM coach Chris Mennig said.
Sophomore Tori McCoy made certain there was no drama in the game. She scored the first 11 STM points and had all 17 of her points by the time 11 minutes had elapsed.
McCoy broke the lone tie, drilling a three-pointer to send the Sabers ahead for good, 5-2.
Watseka (24-6) suffered half of its losses to the Sabers this year. The Warriors tried to slow the game down, attempting their second shot at the 3:14 mark of the opening quarter. By that point, they trailed 7-2. STM opened up a 23-6 lead midway through the second period.
“We’d played them twice and had to do what we could to change the outcome,” Watseka coach Rebecca Swigert said. “We gave it our best. We tried.”
Lexi Wallen picked up the scoring for STM in the second quarter, scoring 13 of her game-high 27. Wallen finished with a double-double, grabbing 10 rebounds.
She said the Sabers didn’t let the slowdown tactics frustrate them.
“You have to be patient and it will go your way,” she said. “If they’re not scoring, they’re not getting anything. We just have to take our time and not rush.”
Bristow drew one of the game’s key defensive assignments, guarding All-Area standout Devin Curry, a 2,000-point career scorer. With help from Andie Bolton and Micki Walker, Curry was held to nine points.
“The first game (in the season series), I had trouble with her,” Bristow said. “She’s so good. We had to stick on her the whole game.”
Curry and Natalie Castonguay were Watseka’s top scorers.
“That’s a workload, holding Curry to nine points,” Mennig said.
Leah Allison had seven rebounds and Madison McCoy added five for the Sabers.
“They’re a quality club,” Swigert said. “You take one thing away and they still have multiple other options.”
St. Thomas More defeated its sectional final opponent 70-37 on Jan. 11, but Mennig believes the rematch could be different.
“They’ve been the dragon slaying everybody lately,” he said. “They were missing a couple of starters (in January). We won’t take them lightly.”
Bloomington Central Catholic 66, Monticello 39. The Saints forced 11 first-quarter turnovers, resulting in five breakaway baskets, as they built a 24-2 lead in the first six minutes to secure a berth in Thursday’s 7 p.m. title game.
“They’re in a different league than we are and there’s no sense trying to pretend they’re not,” Monticello coach Dave Beery said. “They’ve got skilled and intelligent players.
“We need to use that as motivation. Our seniors helped us get where we did. We took a jump forward, but there’s still room for improvement.”
Layne Buzan led Monticello (15-13) with 18 points. Teammate Claire Caldwell scored 10 points. Buzan grabbed a game-high seven rebounds.
“What they (the Saints) did is indicative of how hard they work at it,” Beery said. “What I’m trying to get is not just girls who are out for basketball, but girls who are basketball players.”
Buzan, a junior who nailed four three-pointers, will be one of next year’s team leaders.
“She wants to be good and will push herself,” Beery said. “I’ll guide her more than push her.”
The Sages trailed 27-5 after one quarter and were never closer than 20 points the final 271/2 minutes.
“There are so any different aspects to the game,” Beery said. ”I hope this is something they can learn from. We have to get the level of what we do in practice up another level. We have to work even harder next year than what we did this year.”