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TOLONO – The No. 3-seeded Unity Rockets rode a strong defensive effort toward advancement to the Tolono Unity Regional semifinals.
Unity held No. 6-seeded Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley to single-digit scoring in each quarter and broke the game open with a 14-5 advantage in the second quarter en route to a 51-23 victory.
“We’ve talked all year long about how our defense is our strength and kind of the heart and soul of our program,” Unity coach Kelly Gallick said. “We expect our defense to generate our offense. It’s the motor for us. As long as we’re getting after it and working hard, we know that good things are going to happen. The nice thing about this is that we get an opportunity to play on Tuesday.”
After leading 9-8 at the end of the first quarter and their run in the second quarter, the Rockets led 27-13 at halftime. Regardless, Gallick said her team was too aggressive on the defensive end in the first half and went into the second half more disciplined.
“I’m proud of our kids,” Gallick said. “In the second half, we stayed out of foul trouble. In the first half, we got a little bit too overaggressive and looked for the steal every time they touched the ball instead of being patient and just working for the steal.”
Bielfeldt said his team played a good first half on the defensive end, as evidenced by GCMS allowing only nine points in the first quarter.
“Other than the first two minutes, our girls played really, really well in the first half,” Bielfeldt said. “We played really solid defensively throughout most of first quarter as well as into the second quarter. They came out in the third quarter and hit a couple of 3-pointers and took us out of the game.”
Unity (16-12) held the Falcons to 10 points in the second half, including four in the fourth quarter.
“We didn’t shoot the ball well, and the credit goes to them,” GCMS coach Kyle Bielfeldt said. “They put a lot of pressure on the ball, and we struggled with that early. They were allowed to set the tempo of the game. That’s one thing I told the girls that I didn’t want to have happen – them setting up the tempo and how the game was played.”
Unity was led in scoring by Kennedy Hartman, who tallied nine second-quarter points and made three 3-pointers en route to a game-high 16 points.
“She’s a senior, and you can see that out on the floor,” Gallick said. “She’s had a great second half of the season. It’s nice to see her playing so well given that it’s the last year for her, but I think, overall, our kids are jelling well on the floor. They move the basketball well. When they’re open, they shoot it.”
Hannah Stone and Megan Bingaman each scored seven points. Gallick said Stone made a bigger contribution on the boards.
“I can’t say enough about Hannah Stone and about how she rebounds the ball,” Gallick said. “She’s very unselfish. She just goes to the board and rebounds for us to give us the second and third opportunity to score.”
The Rockets will face No. 2-seeded Paxton-Buckley-Loda in the regional semifinals at 7:30 p.m. today. The winner of that game will play for the regional title at 7:30 p.m. Thursday.
“They’re a solid program,” Gallick said. “They do a lot of things well. I think it’s going to be a very hard-fought game and I think it’s going to be one where it’s like playing against ourselves based on the things we know about PBL, so may the best team win and let’s make sure it’s going to be the Rockets.”
For GCMS (3-24), seniors Annie Schultz and Katie Massey led the scoring effort with eight and six points, respectively.
“It wasn’t a season that I hoped for,” the first-year head coach Bielfeldt said. “It wasn’t a season that the seniors hoped for, but you’ve got to give them credit. They kept plugging away at it. Every day, they would come into practice. Every game, they’d come out and compete and play hard. You’ve got to tip your hat to that stuff. It’s easy to fold up shop early when things aren’t going your way, and these girls never really quit. My hat’s off to them for that.”
The Falcons will lose seven seniors – Massey, Schultz, Taylor Boma, Jessica Meyer, Beth Kauffman, LaToya Baillie and Kayla O’Neal – to graduation.
“(Monday’s game) was it for them,” Bielfeldt said. “That was their last time they’re going to play organized basketball. I’m sure some of them will play some recreational ball and stuff like that. It’s tough when you finally realize it’s over.”
Unity 51, GCMS 23
Taylor Boma 1-0-3, Erin Tabor 0-0-0, Jessica Meyer 0-0-0, Annie Schultz 3-0-8, Blythe Borton 0-0-0, Hannah Kollross 0-0-0, Emily Elder 0-0-0, Katie Massey 3-0-6, Beth Kauffman 0-0-0, Brianna Wall 1-0-2, LaToya Baillie 1-2-4, Jillian Donoho 0-0-0, Kayla O’Neal 0-0-0. Totals 9-2-23.
Kelsey Cunningham 2-0-4, Paige Sappenfield 1-0-2, Hannah Stone 2-3-7, Kaitlynn Stumborg 3-1-7, Kennedy Hartman 4-5-16, Lacy Pruitt 0-0-0, Brea Cunningham 0-2-2, Maxwell 2-0-4, Taylor Spivey 0-0-0, Kaitlynn Stigall 0-0-0, Megan Bingaman 3-1-7, McKenzie Martin 1-0-2. Totals 18-12-51.
GCMS 8 5 6 4 -- 23
UNITY 9 18 14 10 -- 51
3-pointers – GCMS 3 (Schultz 2, Boma), Unity 3 (Hartman 3).