Carlinville beats North Mac for third place; Southwestern ends 15-game slide
By JACKSON WILSON
Enquirer Democrat Reporter
In 1995, Corrie Allan led Staunton to a championship win over Gillespie at the Macoupin County Tournament as a player. 28 years later, she got to witness that same celebration all over again as a coach.
On Jan. 20, in front of a packed house at Hlafka Hall in Bunker Hill, Staunton ripped the hearts out of its biggest rival with a historic 16-point comeback in the second half and repeated as county champions for the first time in school history.
“These girls never give up,” Allan said. “There have been other games where we’ve been down and fought back. This one, we held to the end and made it through. Gillespie played very, very well and they shot the ball fantastic tonight. We knew it was going to be a great game, just a big rivalry and the two towns being so close.”
Gillespie head coach Kevin Gray was also pleased with his Miners, despite the tough loss.
“It was a great effort and a great championship game,” Gray said. “We had a lot of momentum and Staunton kept chipping away. Against their pressure, we got a little tired and a little loose with the ball at the end. But it was a one-possession ballgame. I am real satisfied with the effort from our girls.”
Staunton took an early lead but a 20-3 run, initiated by a buzzer beater three-pointer courtesy of Mia Brawner at the end of the first quarter, helped Gillespie take command early. The Miners led 31-19 with less than two minutes remaining until the intermission and took a 35-28 lead into halftime.
Lilly Bandy and Samantha Anderson each connected on three-pointers in the opening stages of the third quarter to draw Staunton closer at 39-35, but Gillespie caught fire again and stunned the Bulldogs with a 12-0 shockwave just a few minutes later.
At that point, the victory looked to be set in stone for the Miners. After all, they were controlling the glass with seven offensive rebounds, consistently getting to the free throw line and taking advantage of every opportunity that was given to them.
“We wanted to come out and win the third quarter,” said Gray. “We told the girls, it’s 0-0. We produced at both ends of the floor. It just seems we ran out of gas down the stretch.”
In desperate need of a solution, Allan called for a defensive switch from ‘man’ to ‘zone.’ The gameplan worked to perfection and the Bulldogs held the Miners to just seven points in the final eight minutes while catching fire for 24 on the other end.
“Right when that happened, our offensive flow seemed to be affected,” Gray said. “But also, Staunton had to make a lot of clutch shots. Give them credit for their comeback.”
Gillespie went the entire fourth quarter without a field goal. Meanwhile, Staunton was a well-oiled machine. Bandy and Elle Feldman each came away with clutch steals that turned into game-changing transition scores for the Dogs. Evin Frank reduced the gap to two on a late triple, then Bandy powered her way through the defense and converted a tough and-one to tie before giving Staunton a 57-56 lead at the line with just under two minutes remaining.
Gillespie re-claimed a one-point lead on its next trip down the floor then landed a crucial defensive stop. However, a resilient pack of Bulldogs that included four sophomores in its starting five wouldn’t let the Miners secure the rebound. The ball was poked free and Feldman hit Grace Bekeske for what turned out to be the game-winning layup after dropping a slick dime following a save near the baseline.
With less than a minute to go, the Miners failed to answer and fouled Staunton’s lone senior starter Haris Legendre, who buried both free throws to give the Bulldogs some breathing room at 61-58. Delaney Taylor missed an equalizing three and Legendre returned to the charity stripe, where she iced a 62-58 win.
Bandy finished with a game-high 19 points while leading a balanced attack for Staunton. Legendre added 13 points. Bekeske contributed nine tallies. Feldman and Anderson had eight apiece.
“We have a fantastic group,” Allan said. “These sophomores play so well and composed that you wouldn’t really know they are sophomores just by watching them. And of course, Haris, she is a special individual that I am going to miss dearly.”
Due to its All-Tournment honoree Brawner being in foul trouble, Gillespie needed a spark off the bench in order to hang tough with its top-seeded rival. Taylor rose to the challenge and led all Miner scorers with 14 tallies (nine on free throws). Erika Gill added 11 points. Becca Crays and Lauren Bertagnolli each had nine points. Brawner left the game with seven points after committing her fifth and final foul with 1:42 left in the fourth quarter.
“Yes, we could have used Mia down the stretch,” Gray said. “She makes things happen for us. But, we had so many other girls that played well. We really had a great rotation. Everyone was contributing.”
Gray additionally credited the fans for fueling Gillespie’s fire as an underdog.
“It’s unfortunate that girls don’t get to play in front of crowds like that more often,” Gray said. “I thought we really responded well to the atmosphere. Both teams had nice support. Plus, this gym is loud and it’s conducive to exciting basketball.”
Staunton, which wiped out North Mac 59-26 in the semifinal Jan. 17, is 18-6 on the year.
Gillespie beat Carlinville 46-30 on that same day to qualify for the championship. The Miners are 13-12.
Legendre and Feldman joined Brawner on the All-Tournament team. Hannah Gibson of Carlinville and Abby Hendricks of North Mac were also recognized.
Carlinville beats North Mac for third place
Braley Wiser knocked down four threes and scored 14 total points as Carlinville rebounded with a 46-36 victory over North Mac in the third place game Jan. 19.
Taylor Kiers made a strong contribution on the losing side with 16 points, but the Panthers just couldn’t produce enough offense without one their biggest pieces in Hendricks scratched from the lineup.
Carlinville improved to 10-11 overall while North Mac fell to 12-11.
Southwestern ends 15-game slide
Southwestern ended a 15-game losing streak on Jan. 17, beating Bunker Hill 48-40.
The Birds then made it two in a row as they defeated Mt. Olive 38-26 in the fifth place game Jan. 19.
Southwestern is 3-16 on the year.
Mt. Olive is 3-15.
Bunker Hill is 1-15.