By JACKSON WILSON
Enquirer Democrat Reporter
Good things came to those who wait and those who work hard. The Gillespie High School girls’ basketball team proved that saying true at the 105th annual Macoupin County Tournament in Piasa last weekend.
The Miners rolled through all three of their respective opponents, including formerly state-ranked Staunton in the final, and took home their first county tournament title since 2002.
After reaching last year’s championship game only to have a 16-point second half lead evaporate en route to a heartbreaking 62-58 loss against their arch-rivals in Bunker Hill, the Miners finally eliminated that tough memory as they put forth the ultimate redemption effort, humbling the Bulldogs with multiple major second half surges and initiating a running clock in the final two minutes.
Gillespie struck first on championship night thanks to a pair of deep threes from Lauren Bertagnolli and remained ahead the entire evening. After jumping out to an 18-9 lead in the first quarter, the Miners widened the gap to 13 points at the half and overwhelmed the Dogs, 63-32.
Amazingly, the Miners were faced with the exact same goal and situation from the 2023 championship – up 16 with nine minutes to go. With added depth and support provided by a talented group of underclassmen, Gillespie had plenty of gas left in the tank to seal the deal this time around. The added spark was contributed by a pair of freshmen in Amari Vickery (nine points) and Laci Shuckenbrock (seven points), who collaborated for 16 points to back the valiant leadership of the Miner captains.
Gillespie, the tourney’s third seed behind Staunton and Carlinville, which the Miners dominated 60-47 in the semifinal after blitzing Mt. Olive 75-24, delivered the final dagger in the form of a 14-1 fourth quarter run, sending the GHS supporters, sideline and a large student section into a memorable celebratory frenzy.
Junior Mia Brawner posted a game-high 21 points, including 15 in the second half onslaught, and drew within six tallies of becoming the 10th GHS player to surpass the 1,000-point mark for her career. Delaney Taylor added 10 points.
Brawner represented Gillespie on the All-Tournament team alongside Staunton’s Grace Bekeske and Ele Feldmann, Carlinville’s Isabella Tiburzi and Southwestern’s Vivian Zurheide.
Bekeske and Feldmann scored seven points apiece for the Bulldogs, who split two contests after receiving a first round bye. Staunton defeated Southwestern, 68-21, in the semifinal.
Gillespie is 19-6 overall. Staunton is 17-3. The Miners and Bulldogs will rematch in a pivotal South Central Conference dual at GHS Feb. 1. Both teams enter the home stretch of the regular season as part of a five-way tie for the league crown along with Carlinville, Greenville and Hillsboro.
In other action, Carlinville (18-6) dominated Southwestern (7-14) 48-16 for third place and North Mac (16-8) outlasted Mt. Olive (4-12) 59-48 for fifth. Carlinville opened the tournament with a 50-17 win over Bunker Hill (2-13). North Mac lost 56-51 against Southwestern.