NORMAL – In the world of high school basketball, going into an opponent’s gym can be a challenge for the team coming in. But on Feb. 20, Normal Community West’s girls’ team were still the visitors, but the opponents were New Lenox, Ill.-based Lincoln-Way West High School, ranked 4th in the State. Despite being seeded fourth prior to the start of the contest, the Wildcats fought hard only to fall to the Warriors, 70-54, as roughly 2,200 fans crowded into NCHS’ main gym for the contest.

While senior guard Olivia Demosthenes scored the game’s opening points for Normal West (21-8), putting her team up, 2-0, the Warriors countered quickly with three unanswered baskets – one from sophomore forward Brianna Woolridge followed by two from senior guard Taylor Gugliuzza, putting that team up quickly, 6-2, with 5:58 left in the quarter. Sophomore guard Megan Williams hit West’s next basket, reducing their opponent’s lead to 6-4 with 4:35 remaining. Williams, having been fouled by Warriors senior guard Sydney Swanberg added a pair of free throws to trim the Warriors’ lead to two, 8-6, with 3:58 left in the quarter.

Taylor Gugliuzza’s next basket in the quarter put the Warriors up, 10-8, but was followed by back-to-back countering baskets for West by Demosthenes which pushed West in front, 12-10, with 1:06 remaining. Woolridge tied the game at 12-all for Lincoln-Way West and Normal West quickly responded thanks to a bucket from senior forward Rosh Webb, putting the Wildcats in front, 14-12, going into the second quarter.

The second quarter began with an exchange of treys from freshman Warriors guard Ava Gugliuzza and West’s Webb, but the Warriors pulled out to a 24-16 advantage halfway through the quarter. But as the quarter continued, the Wildcats held off the Warriors by just one going into halftime, 28-27.

But as the third quarter began, Lincoln-Way West (28-3) went on a 7-0 run which featured a basket and free throw, and another basket from Woolridge, and a basket from Taylor Gugliuzza, pushing the Warriors up, 34-28, and prompting Normal West head coach Corey Ostling to call time at the 5:47 mark. Following the timeout, senior forward Rosh Webb hit a deuce at the 5:41 mark reducing the Warriors lead to four, 34-30. Swanberg countered with a trey putting the Warriors in front, 37-30 with 4:36 remaining in the quarter.

Another Swanberg three would push the Warriors up by seven, 40-33, with 4:36 remaining in the quarter, and would extend it 44-35 before a pair of Demosthenes free throws reduced Lincoln-Way West’s lead to seven, 44-37, with 1:52 left in the quarter. Woolridge’s next basket came as she was fouled by Normal West, but she missed the shot for the third point, but the Warriors still owned a nine point lead, 46-37, until Woolridge hit a quarter-closing trey, reducing the Warriors lead going into the fourth quarter to 46-40.

For the second straight quarter, Swanberg would hit a trey to lengthen the Warriors lead, 49-40, as the fourth quarter began. That prompted Ostling to call time to help the Wildcats regroup. Coming out of the timeout, Warriors junior guard Tara Gugliuzza, having been fouled by West’s Megan Williams, missed her free throws, but Williams’ teammate, Demosthenes, having been fouled, sank one of a pair of free throws, cutting the Warriors’ lead to eight, 49-41, with 5:41 remaining in the contest. A Tara Gugliuzza basket put the Warriors up by 10, 51-41 and a pair of free throws by Ava Gugliuzza pushed the Warriors up, 53-41. Demosthenes’ next basket reduced that lead to 10, 53-43, before two foul calls against Normal West and one against the Warriors led to a battle of free throws, resulting in Taylor Gugliuzza and Swanberg going a combined 3-of-4 for the Warriors, and Demosthenes going 2-for-2, with the Warriors leading 56-45.

Demosthenes’ next basket at 3:24 in the quarter reduced the Warriors’ lead, 56-47 but Taylor Gugliuzza hit a deuce and was fouled leading to a three-point play, putting the Warriors up, 59-47. A trey by Demosthenes followed by two free throws by the 5 foot-5 senior helped West reduce the Warriors’ lead to seven, 59-52, before West players fouled all three Gugliuzzas in order. The end result of that was Tara Gugliuzza, Ava Gugliuzza, and Taylor Gugliuzza, in order being fouled and going a combined 3-for-6 and the Warriors owning a 62-52 lead, prompting Normal West to call time with 1:24 left in the contest.

Coming out of the time out, having been fouled by West sophomore guard Carlie Boitnott, Tara Gugliuzza hit two free throws with 1:04 left followed by a basket from Taylor Gugliuzza, putting the Warriors up, 66-54, with 40.1 seconds remaining and prompting the Wildcats to call time, but when the game resumed, Taylor Gugliuzza closed out the contest by adding four more points resulting in the final score.

Taylor Gugliuzza and Woolridge led the Warriors’ scoring with 26 points and 24 points respectfully. Demosthenes was Normal West’s top scorer with 15 points, followed in double figures by Williams with 13, and 10 apiece from Rosh Webb and Miya Webb.

Lincoln-Way West head coach Ryan White admitted West forced his team to switch defenses from zone to man-to-man, which, he admitted, his team normally does not do. “West was beating us with zone, so we had to switch it up a little bit. We’re usually not a great man team, but I thought we did a pretty good job of handling it. At the half, we were only down by one, and I felt if we were to bear down defensively, we would be in great shape.”

White said even though his team was victorious, he and his girls were aware each game at this point gets a little harder and that Normal West “put a scare into us.”

“The fact that Normal West held us to 27 points and didn’t allow us to score any threes in the first half says they did a great job,” he said, adding his team took the approach of not forcing plays into happening helped them in the second half.

Despite being eliminated from making it to State, Ostling said afterward, “I was proud of what our girls did tonight. I just thought our girls kept competing the whole way through and we played Normal West basketball. We didn’t get caught up into what they do. We paid more attention on what we do.

“From the get-go, the girls said they were going to be fearless in this game, and they did that,” Ostling said. “They didn’t bat an eye and they were laser focused on the game plan, and I’m proud of them.”

Looking back on the season overall, Ostling, wrapping up his fifth season as head coach, said the team has nothing to be discouraged about, adding he thought it was one of the best seasons the school has ever had. He reminded the team has made it into the regionals for the last three years.

BLOOMINGTON – El Paso Gridley’s boys’ basketball team fought for every basket Saturday during the championship game at the 109th Heart Of Illinois Conference/McLean County Tournament, held at Shirk Center on Illinois Wesleyan University’s campus. They just ran into a Tremont Turks squad led by senior guard Landon Pflederer who was blazing a trail of his own while leading his team to the Turks’ 64-61 win over the Titans.

Pflederer scored six treys in the contest breaking the previous record of five treys, the last players to set a record for those shots in a championship contest included Ridgeview’s Tyler McCormick three years ago.

While that sounds like plenty going on in a championship, the action started slowly in the first quarter with a single free throw by senior guard Titus Thompson who only hit 1-of-2 free throws, giving the Turks a 1-0 lead. But Titans sophomore guard Asa Smith was fouled by Thompson, giving Smith the chance to go 2-for-2 from the free throw line, putting EPG up, 2-1. That was followed by the game’s first back-to-back field goals by Tremont senior forward Marco Falcon and senior guard Titus Thompson, pushing the Turks up, 5-2.

Smith was fouled a second time, sending him to the charity stripe, where he hit 1-of-2, closing the gap on the Turks, 5-3, at the 5:48 mark in the first quarter. That was followed by a deuce by Pflederer, putting the Turks up, 7-3. Senior guard Ethan Jeffreys’ deuce, reducing the Turks’ lead, 7-5, but a trey by sophomore guard Isaiah Eatock with 4:22 left in the quarter doubled Tremont’s score, 10-5.

EPG responded with back-to-back baskets, a deuce from senior forward Jack Weber and trey from Jeffreys, to tie the game 10-all with 3:36 remaining. A basket from Pflederer put the Turks up, 12-10, which EPG’s Weber was quick to respond to, tying the contest at 12-all at the 1:45 mark. A three-point play by a fouled Thompson put Tremont up, 15-12 while EPG senior Silas Steiner could only make an initial basket but fail to make the free throw after being fouled, giving Tremont a 15-14 lead with 1:11 left in the quarter. EPG did go into the second quarter with a one-point advantage, 16-15, thanks to Weber’s jumper toward the end of the quarter.

A seesaw battle began the second quarter, with Thompson and Smith exchanging baskets, keeping EPG up, 18-17, before Falcon hit another deuce, putting the Turks up, 19-18, with 5:36 until half. Rapid fire baskets from EPG’s Ihlenfeldt, Tremont’s Thompson, and then back-to-back unanswered shots from EPG senior forward Jack Weber and Smith pushed the Titans up by three, 24-21, with 4:05 until halftime.

Tremont (17-5) capitalized on a three point play for senior forward Ryan Wagenbach having been fouled by Steiner, allowing Wagenbach to tie the game, 24-all, with 3:49 until the half. Senior forward Dilynn Gray’s basket put EPG up, 26-24 and was countered by a free throw by Thompson, cutting the Titans’ lead to 26-25. Another Steiner basket gave EPG a 28-25 lead, but Titans fans only saw that lead become overtaken by a deuce by Wagenbach followed by a four-point play, including a trey by Pflederer, putting Tremont up, 31-28, at the quarter’s 1:37 mark.

A Ihlenfeldt free throw, reduced that lead, 31-29, but then the quarter closed as it had started, with both sides responding basket for basket, first from Tremont’s Wagenbach, followed by a pair of deuces from EPG’s Weber, ending with a basket by Jeffreys, giving the Turks a 35-33 halftime lead.

The skirmish of the two teams answering basket for basket continued into the third quarter starting with Weber opening the third quarter with a jumper to tie the game at 35-all. Tremont’s Wagenbach responded with a deuce of his own, putting the Turks up, 37-35. A deuce and free shot from Smith helped EPG tie, then go in front, 38-37, at the 5:10 mark. But a Pflederer bucket put Tremont back in front by one, 39-38, with 4:52 left. A Steiner basket put EPG in front, 40-39, only to see the game tied at 40-all by a free throw from a fouled Turks Pflederer at the 3:31 mark. The Titans did manage two straight unanswered baskets from there from Jeffreys followed by Weber to go up by four, 44-40, with 1:24 left in the quarter. But the Titans only owned a two point lead going into the fourth quarter, 46-44.

A trey by Pflederer followed by a deuce from Wagenbach opened the fourth quarter and put Tremont up, 49-46, but EPG’s Gray hitting a trey tied the contest at 49-all, and the teams exchanged deuces once more before EPG called a timeout with 5:36 remaining. Following the timeout, Pflederer hit a trey putting Tremont up, 54-51, at the 5:08 mark. Ihlenfeldt responded with a trey for the Titans, tying the game, 54-all, with 4:32 left.

Wagenbach hit jumper to put Tremont up by three, 57-54, but that lead was short following a deuce from Gray, cutting Tremont’s lead to one, 57-56, with 3:15 left in the contest. Coming out of the timeout, Wagenbach hit another trey, putting EPG up, 59-57 with 2:52 remaining. Pflederer responded with a trey seconds later putting Tremont up by one, 60-59, prompting Tremont head coach Troy Schmidt to call timeout with 2:01 remaining.

Both teams assumed defensive postures with no scoring until Tremont called their next timeout with 40.2 seconds left. Coming out of that timeout, the Turks did manage to increase their lead, courtesy of a free throw by Falcon, who only made 1-of-2 free throws, having been fouled by Steiner. That pushed Tremont up, 61-59, with 28.2 seconds left. But Weber fouled Tremont’s Thompson, sending him to the foul line where he sank two shots, putting Tremont up by four, 63-59. At that point, the Turks called time out with 10.7 seconds left.

Coming out of the timeout, Gray sank a deuce to bring EPG within two, 63-61, and prompting Tremont to call time. When play resumed, EPG’s Smith fouled Tremont’s Wagenbach whose free throws sealed the victory.

Pfelderer was high scorer for Tremont with 29 points, which included six treys. That number of treys broke the record for the most treys made during a championship game. Three players were tied for having made five during a championship game, the most recent player to have made that many in a championship game was Tyler McCormick playing for Ridgeview in 2017. Following Pfelderer in double figures was Wagenbach with 14. Weber had 16 for EPG, leading his team’s scoring. He was followed in double-figures by 12 from Gray, and 10 each from Ihlenfeldt and Smith.

“They did what we thought they were going to do,” said Tremont head coach Troy Schmidt about what his team anticipated seeing from EPG. “They got us a little bit with penetration early and we decided to go to zone in the second half to take the penetration away. That slowed them down a little bit.

EPG head coach Nathan Meiss admitted afterward, “Pflederer was the best player on the floor tonight, especially in the fourth quarter. He stepped up big from the three-point line tonight. We knew we could score. We weren’t very good defensively in the first half, but I thought in the second half, we came around. Hat’s off to them, they were better than us tonight.”

BLOOMINGTON – Ask El Paso Gridley girls’ head basketball coach Jeff Sinn and you get the feeling seeing his team seeded 9th prior to the 109th Heart Of Illinois Conference/McLean County Tournament was short-changing his team before they had an opportunity to prove their skills.

The Titans came into this tournament seeking to win the girls’ tourney’s crown but ended up carting home a third place award after beating sixth seed Fisher, 38-34, Saturday afternoon at Shirk Center on Illinois Wesleyan University’s campus.

EPG (10-12 after this game) jumped out to a fast 5-0 lead thanks to back-to-back baskets, a trey and a deuce, from senior guard Addison Benedict. Fisher responded with back-to-back shots from junior guard Morgan Coile and freshman guard Kallie Evans, reducing the Titans’ lead, 5-4, with 1:50 left in the quarter.

Fisher (11-11 following this game) owned a 7-5 lead as the opening quarter ended, courtesy of a free throw by senior guard Kylee Bishop and a deuce from senior forward Brianna Keeton, allowing the Bunnies to carry that lead into the second quarter.

EPG found themselves needing to respond to a pair of three-point shots to start the second quarter. Those came from Bunnies senior guard Daneigh Burk and junior forward Brianna Sommer, giving Fisher a 10-9 advantage with 5:35 left in the quarter. But Hood’s second trey, coming at the 4:23 mark, allowed Fisher the advantage of a four-point lead, 13-9. A pair of free throws by fouled sophomore guard Jordyn Cannon allowed EPG to close in on the Bunnies’ lead, 13-11, before a deuce from Hood help extend her team’s lead, 15-11.

At this point, Sinn called time out with 2:35 remaining until halftime, after which the Titans went on a 6-0 tear, starting with a Benedict firing a deuce and a trey, and a jumper from junior forward Rebecca Orns, allowing the Titans to jump over the Bunnies going into halftime, 18-15.

Third quarter scoring was back and forth, starting with senior guard Kylee Bishop’s deuce which opened the period, reducing EPG’s lead to one, 18-17. Orns responded with a deuce to give the Titans a 20-17 advantage. Senior forward Ashley Smith’s deuce at the 4:43 mark helped close the gap the Bunnies faced, trailing by one, 20-19, but Orns’ basket with 3:37 left put EPG up, 22-19. Bunnies junior forward Leah McCoy’s jumper sliced EPG’s lead to one, 22-21, with 3:20 left. But Cannon’s next basket extended her team’s lead, 24-21, with 2:55 left in the quarter.

Hood’s basket with 43.5 seconds in the third again closed the gap EPG tried to leave Fisher in, 24-23, before EPG sophomore guard Michaela Kelly’s deuce with 17.5 seconds left renewed the Titans’ three-point lead, 26-23. The quarter closed on Bunnies senior forward Ashley Smith’s bucket and foul shot attempt, which she missed, allowing EPG to hold on to a single-digit lead, 26-25, entering the fourth quarter.

Fisher retook the lead briefly, 27-26, thanks to a jumper from senior forward Brianna Keeton. It was replied to with one by EPG sophomore forward Devyn Hinthorne putting EPG up, 28-27. A basket by senior forward Ashley Smith allowed the Bunnies to hop in front briefly, 29-28. EPG stepped back in the lead, 30-29 with 5:41 left in the contest, starting a 6-0 run for the Titans which included a deuce and two free throws from Olivia Tipler. Keeton’s basket ended the streak, and pulled the Bunnies within three, 34-31 with 3:11 left in the game.

Two free throws by Kelly, having been fouled by Hood, pushed EPG’s lead up by five, 36-31 with 1:47 left, in the middle of which, Bunnies head coach Ken Ingold called time, but the tactic failed. A basket by Evans trimmed the Spartans’ lead back down to two, 36-34, prompting Bunnies head coach Ken Ingold to another call time out 30.2 seconds left.

Bishop fouled Cannon, putting EPG back on the free throw line with 29.1 seconds remaining, where she sank two baskets, putting the Titans up, 38-34. Following an EPG timeout, Cannon was fouled again, this time by McCoy, with 13.7 seconds left. Cannon missed the first of two shots. From there, Fisher inbounded the ball, getting it to Bishop, who launched a shot from just beyond half-court as the buzzer sounded, only to see the ball smack the backboard and fall to the floor.

Benedict led all scorers and EPG in double-figures with 14 points. Hood pocketed 10 for Fisher in leading her team’s effort. Ingold was not available for comment following the contest. Fisher holds a 12-11 record after this contest.

“We took home third place and starting from being 9th seed, that’s pretty darn good,” EPG’s Sinn admitted following the contest. “The girls didn’t let them distract them. We know we can play and we’re a tough team and we showed that during this tournament.” He added his team has shown improvement in their play offensively and defensively since the season began in November.

He added placing third after their seeding in the county tournament was a good thing and credited being in the State Farm Bloomington-Normal Holiday Classic last month as “good preparation for this.” The Titans finished the Classic with a 2-2 mark.

By Steve Robinson | January 20, 2020 - 10:32 pm
Posted in Category: St. Louis Cardinals, The Normalite

BLOOMINGTON – Central Illinois may be facing another winter at the moment, but St. Louis Cardinals fans got a jump on thinking about spring and summer thanks to a visit with a mix of veteran and newcomer players when the team’s annual St. Louis Cardinals Caravan rolled through town on Saturday, stopping at the Parke Regency Hotel and Conference Center.

Three Generations Of Rosendale Family Take In Event: For father and son Bob and Jake Rosendale, love of baseball was something that has been passed down. And Jake Rosendale is now watching as his daughter, Shelby, and son, Tyler, carry on the family tradition of rooting for the boys from St. Louis. Bob said he has been a Cardinals fan since he was a boy, when fans could find guys like pitchers Curt Simmons and Curt Flood, and outfielders Al Dark and Del Ennis on a lineup card. Jake Rosendale said he and his dad and kids have attended a number of Cards Caravan events since the team put the Twin Cities back in their rotation.

Tyler, a Northpoint Elementary School sixth grader said he likes the Cards because of the loyalty he sees players showing the team. “The team is just really cool,” Shelby, a Kingsley Junior High School eighth grader, added.

“Doing this and going to games teaches the kids about being a fan and to enjoy the athletes that are out there and the atmosphere when you’re at the ballpark,” Jake Rosendale explained.

The Rosendales, however, were missing one member of the family at this event who, clearly, does not share loyalty for the Cardinals the way the folks who came to this event do. That missing member would be Jake’s wife, Tricia. She was not at this event because, for you see, she is a lifelong Chicago Cubs fan, Jake explained.

Young Fans Begin The Questioning: Third baseman and outfielder Tommy Erdman, Pitchers Daniel Ponce De Leon and Matthew Libertore, and Cards minor league infielder Nolan Gorman appeared during this visit to whet baseball appetites of 300 Cards faithful, young and old alike. In addition to current players, fans also got visit and get autographs from Cardinals alums Kyle McClellan and Bernard Gilkey, who also came along for this leg of the trip. Players were introduced and asked follow-up questions by Cardinals broadcaster Mike Claibourne. Members of Illinois State University’s baseball team also were present for this event.

“How great was last season?,” asked the emcee for the event, WJBC personality Marc Strauss asked fans to begin the 90-minute session, reminding the crowd the Cards won the Central Division title last season, not to mention making the postseason for the fifth time in nine years. The crowd responded with applause having been witness to their favorite team winning the National League Divisional Series 3 games to 2 over Atlanta, but falling to Washington in the NL championship series.

Youthful fans sat on the floor in front of the dais the players gathered at as the questioning of players about the upcoming season began. The first question came from a young fan who wanted to know who the team thought would make the bigs first, either Matthew Rutherford or Gorman. Gorman diplomatically said he hoped both he and Rutherford would arrive to play for St. Louis “on the same day.” The diplomatic answer drew applause from the gathering.

Another young fan asked Erdman what it was like to hit his first major league grand slam, as he did at Cincinnati in July. “It was a great feeling to run around the bases after that hit,” Erdman responded. That hit was just one of 11 homers Erdman hit last season contributing to a season where he had 99 hits including 17 doubles and 35 extra base hits since getting promoted to the majors in early June. He started in 75 of 92 games last season and led the team with 32 hits.

Another fan asked about, upon finding out they were being called up to the majors, who did players call and break the news to first. Gorman said he contacted his wife. “It was a cool moment for me, but only thing was I found out when I was playing catch. And since it was the first day of spring training, I couldn’t to the locker room to call my wife or anybody. So I told my teammates and then my parents.”

To the same question, Ponce De Leon said he contacted his father. Upon hearing the news, he said, “My father just started screaming. He said, ‘Woooooooo.’ You could hear him drop the phone and run around the house. He told my mom and it was pretty cool because he was, like, my number one fan.”

“I called my wife and my parents,” explained Edman. “Fortunately, they were all able to come out to Chicago. We had a crew of 10 or 15 people there.”

Gilkey said the reaction to the news when he called his folks was his parents. “My mom answered the phone and she was who I told first. She was totally elated by the news,” he explained, adding that when his father got on the line, he renewed the feeling he had about his son being able to make the big leagues. “He said, instead of telling me how happy he was, he went into a long schpeel about when I started playing in little league and told me then he thought I could make it.”

McLellan admitted to being nervous when he first took the mound as a major leaguer with St. Louis in a game against Colorado in 2008. His career lasted six seasons, ending with his retirement from the game in 2013 playing for the Texas Rangers.

Libertore said his trade from the Tampa Bay Rays to the Cardinals took, in reality, 25 minutes to transpire. He said he was going through workouts when the call came and after checking with his agent, called his father to alert him to it. “I am super happy to be here,” he told attendees.

BLOOMINGTON – When the brackets for the Small School Girls’ Division at the State Farm Bloomington-Normal Holiday Tournament were first posted, fans of University High School’s girls’ basketball team, seeded fifth, probably felt their team would do well, but possibly would run into problems against higher seeded teams. As the four-day tournament progressed, head coach Laura Sellers’ team faced three of four teams with single-digit seeds and emerged as the Small School Bracket Champion for this year by coming from behind to beat third seed and previously unbeaten Brimfield, 49-39, at Shirk Center on Illinois Wesleyan University’s campus Dec. 30.

But as the contest began, Brimfield (16-1), behind a trio of unanswered deuces from junior guard Haley Wallace, jumped out to a fast 6-0 lead following the opening tip. A Pioneers bucket by senior guard Logan Murray reduced that lead to 6-2. A pair of free throws by Brimfield junior forward Ella Lune pushed the Lady Indians up, 8-2. But U-High scored a deuce and a trey back-to-back soon after, with senior forward Chelsie Price scoring first followed by Murray adding to the total to pull U-High within one, 8-7 at the 4:11 mark in the opening quarter.

Brimfield went on a 6-0 unanswered run of their own, topped off by a basket from sophomore forward Sophie Bedell, giving the Lady Indians a 12-9 lead. A deuce and free throw by Lune pushed Brimfield out in front, 15-9 with 1:40 left in the opening quarter, but the Pioneers cut that lead, 15-11, on two free throws by junior guard Chloe Ward with 1:26 left in the quarter. Brimfield owned a 17-11 advantage to open the second quarter thanks to a bucket by Wallace.

U-High (10-6 after this game) opened the second quarter on a 6-0 spurt with a deuce each from sophomore guard Naomi Elliott and junior guard Alexis Noonan before Murray sank a trey to give the Pioneers their first lead of the contest, 18-17, with 5:49 remaining. Lune hit a pair of unanswered deuces to put Brimfield up by three, 21-18. Murray responded with a deuce to pull U-High within one, 21-20, with two minutes remaining. Wallace countered to put Brimfield up, 23-20. But then, Lune fouled Murray as she was in the process of shooting from behind the three-point line. As a result, Murray hit a trio of free throws and Price closed out the quarter with a deuce to put U-High up by two at the half, 25-23.

Noonan opened the second half with a deuce for the Pioneers to expand U-High’s lead, 27-23. Brimfield’s Wallace and U-High junior forward Kassidy Patton exchanged buckets, followed by a pair of baskets, one from Lune and one from senior forward Ella Cagwin, knotting the game at 29-29. U-High senior guard Emma Harding’s trey midway through the quarter gave the Pioneers a 32-29 advantage and prompted Pioneers’ Sellers to call a time out. Coming out of that timeout, Price hit another basket, increasing U-High’s lead, 34-29 with 3:26 left in the quarter. Brimfield head coach Maribeth Dura called timeout at that point to assess her team’s situation. Coming out of the timeout, Wallace hit a layup for Brimfield and was followed by back-to-back buckets for U-High from Price and Noonan, giving the Pioneers a 38-31 lead going into the fourth quarter.

U-High’s Murray and Brimfield sophomore forward Sophie Bedell exchanged deuces to open the fourth quarter, with the Pioneers in front, 40-33 with 6:13 left in the contest. A foul by Lune sent Price to the free throw line where she sank 1-of-2, increasing the Pioneers’ advantage, 41-33 at the 3:56 mark. Wallace followed for Brimfield hitting a deuce, cutting the Pioneers’ lead to six, 41-35, with 1:45 remaining. From there, Lady Indians fouls sent Ward to the free throw line twice, and Lune, Murray and senior guard Emma Harding once each. Combined, those shooters went 6-for-7 to give U-High a 47-35 lead.

Harding fouled Cagwin as she tried to shoot from beyond the three-point line, putting her at the line for three shots which she made with 15.7 seconds left, reducing U-High’s lead, 47-38. But Cagwin would then foul Ward with 9 seconds left. Ward would sink both shots giving U-High a 49-38 lead. Fouled by Pioneers sophomore guard Naomi Elliott, Cagwin would go 1-for-2 at the line for Brimfield’s final points, resulting in the final score.

Murray led U-High’s scoring with 15 points including two treys. She was followed in double-digits by Price’s 11. Wallace and Lune led Brimfield’s scoring effort, pocketing 16 points and 15 points, respectfully.

“We had the chance to be the aggressor defensively and those experiences paid off,” Sellers said afterward about part of U-High’s strategy. “When you play four games in four days, sometimes the last game isn’t the best game. I think both teams were getting after it and making it hard for the other to score and it became a defensive battle in the third quarter.”

“We really focus on our defense, and our biggest thing is if we can down, then we don’t have to worry about scoring as much,” explained Price.

“U-High is very physical, and we don’t normally see that,” admitted Dura following the game. “We knew they’d be physical. We thought we had a pretty good physical game going against Rochester the other day, but U-High just came out and played their hard-nosed defense. U-High is really good about being patient against opponents, so I think their possessions are very long, and I think we weren’t as patient.”

Pioneers Advance To Championship With Semi-final Win Over Rock Falls, 42-27: The win over the Spartans placed U-High in a semi-final in the bracket against top seed Rock Falls on Dec. 28. But the Lady Rockets discovered early they were in for a fight against U-High and it turned out to be a fight they couldn’t win. U-High led early and throughout the contest, with leads of 8-2 at the end of the first quarter and 19-7 at the half. The third quarter was the only one Rock Falls achieved scoring double-digits in, but U-High still outpaced them during that stanza, 13-12. Going into the fourth quarter, the Pioneers owned a 32-19 advantage. That win set them up to take on the Lady Indians for the Small School Girls’ bracket title on Dec. 30. Murray and Price led Pioneers’ scoring, with 17 and 15, respectfully. Junior guard Abi Peyton was the lone Lady Rockets player in double-figures with 13 points.

Second Round Victory Over St. Joseph-Ogden, 41-35: The final score of the Pioneers’ second round contest might not indicate it, but Sellers’ team’s defense prevented any 4th seeded St. Joseph-Ogden players from scoring in double-figures. What’s more, U-High trailed the Spartans after one quarter, 17-8, and 26-16 at the half. A 13-2 third quarter onslaught by the Pioneers gave U-High a 29-28 lead going into the fourth quarter where the Pioneers continued to overtake their opponents resulting in the victory. U-High’s Price led all scorers with 12 points followed in double-figures by Elliott who scored 10 points which included one trey and seven free throws in 12 tries at the line. Junior forward Payton Vallee served as St. Joseph-Ogden’s high scorer pocketing 9 points.

Pioneers Outpace Rockford Lutheran For First Round Win, 45-30: The Pioneers got their tournament off to a positive start by winning their opening round game against 12th seed Rockford Lutheran, 45-30. The Pioneers led throughout, 9-6 at the end of the first quarter, 23-12 at halftime, and 36-26 by the end of the third quarter. Patton led the Pioneers in scoring with 14 points followed by Price who scored 11 to boost their team into the second round against 4th seed St. Joseph-Ogden.