- Our Sites
- The News-Gazette
- NewsTalk 1400 WDWS-AM
- Lite Rock 97.5 WHMS
- 107.9 WKIO
- Community News
TOLONO – As Paxton-Buckley-Loda battled the No. 1-ranked Class 2A team in St. Thomas More in Thursday’s Tolono Unity Regional championship, assistant coach Lynn Rubarts received some news about another No. 1-ranked team doing down.
After trailing 41-29, the University of Illinois men’s basketball team pulled off an upset over No. 1 Indiana 74-72. At the time when Rubarts heard the news and spread to head coach Clarissa Gross and the PBL team, the Panthers trailed STM by a much-larger halftime deficit – 38-13.
Unlike the Fighting Illini, PBL could not knock off its top-ranked opponent, as the Sabers beat the Panthers 73-33 to win the regional title.
“That’s an exciting win for all the Illini fans. It definitely is,” Gross said. “I wish (the Illini win) would have (given us hope), though. I really do.”
Instead, STM is advancing to the Clifton Central Sectional after a title game that was dominated by the Sabers from the get-go.
“It’s always nice to win a regional,” STM head coach Chris Mennig said. “Ever since we started this program, this group was kind of the benchmark. It’s one more goal that they had in front of them at the beginning of the year.”
En route to producing 24 turnovers, the Sabers (28-2) used their pressure defense to build a 13-0 lead from which they would never look back. Tori McCoy scored STM’s first field goal on a steal that led to a fastbreak layup.
“I thought that they came out with a great intensity from the tip and really showed an aggressive brand of basketball,” Mennig said. “Defense is always the one thing that can always remain constant. That’s how we’re able to put up the numbers that we do. Half of our scheme is to hopefully wear teams down on both sides of the ball, whether it’s by pushing the ball offensively or pressing at full court. I’d like to think it’s a fun brand to watch. I don’t get bored watching us play, and hopefully more people will come out and watch us make this run.”
Kandace Hofer scored PBL’s first two points little more than halfway through the first quarter. The Panthers ended the first quarter with a 22-7 deficit.
The offensive struggles continued for PBL, as it scored only six and eight points in the second and third quarters, respectively, before breaking the double-digit mark with 12 points in the fourth quarter.
“Some of our shots didn’t fall early on,” Gross said. “We got a little flustered with their ball pressure, and it just was hard for us to get going from the start.”
For a Sabers squad averaging almost 70 points per game, four players scored in double figures. McCoy recorded a double-double with 19 points and 11 rebounds.
Lexi Wallen added 17 points, including nine in the fourth quarter, while Jade Brinkoetter scored nine of her 13 points in the first quarter. Randa Harshbarger added 10 points.
“Whether it’s Bloomington Central Catholic, Whitney Young or Salt Fork, we’re putting up numbers,” Mennig said. “This group gives us a lot of options when we get to the offensive side of the floor. It’s a lot of fun.”
For PBL (20-8), its five seniors scored 28 of its points. Kandace Hofer led the Panthers with nine points while Andi Lemley and Amanda Ypya added eight and seven points, respectively.
Sara Kennedy and Erin Lemley each scored two points. Erin Lemley fouled out with 2:48 remaining in the game.
After more time ticked down, the seniors received a standing ovation from the PBL faithful as they made their way toward the bench.
“Your last game of the season is always tough knowing it’s the last time that you’ll have your complete family together,” Gross said. “It’s difficult for the five seniors.”
The Sabers will face Clinton, which defeated Maroa-Forsyth 53-33 in the Decatur St. Teresa Regional, in the Clifton Central Sectional semifinals at 7:30 p.m. Monday.
“Our girls have pretty much tried to take on any challenge that’s been in front of them all year,” Mennig said. “Monday will be one more.”
No matter how hard the PBL girls fought against STM, they could not get over the hump. Regardless, Gross said after the regional title game that she would not trade places with Mennig.
“The girls fought. They played hard for 32 minutes,” Gross said. “If you told me that if I was coaching St. Thomas More, I’d win state, I’d tell somebody else to come and coach them. I’m the coach of the Panthers, and I’d take that team over St. Thomas More anyday. There’s only one No. 1 team, and they happen to be in our regional. That’s just kind of how it played out. You’ve just got to go with it. We have no regrets.”