DUNLAP -- Injuries. Illness. Defections.|
The Alleman girls' basketball team ultimately overcame all of those obstacles, plus a fellow Cinderella story in plucky Geneseo, to win the Class 3A Dunlap Regional, 43-36 Thursday.
The surprise championship marked Alleman's first regional title in three seasons, and the 16th overall since 1992, the debut season for longtime coach Jay Hatch.
The Pioneers (17-14) advance to the Washington Sectional to face Bartonville Limestone on Monday. Geneseo's season ends at 15-16 despite upsetting top-seeded Galesburg earlier this week.
"Considering these kids have never even won a regional game before, this means quite a bit for this group,'' Hatch said. "Sometimes you don't grow through the season, but these kids have. They've fought through a lot this year, and we're just happy as coaches to continue this season, because we get to be around these kids a little more.''
An 8-0 start and some clutch free-throw shooting helped see to that.
The Pioneers never led by more than nine points, though, and twice needed to hold off Geneseo comebacks in the fourth quarter.The Leafs clawed as close as one point with 5:59 remaining, but on a set play called during a timeout, Erin Morrisey scored a three-point play to help keep Geneseo at bay.
"Erin's been a go-to player for us all season, and she was again tonight,'' Hatch said. "It was a really good job by her, somebody had to set a screen and Isabel (Anderson) did a great job of getting the pass to her and not rushing it. That was a huge momentum swing.''
However, three minutes later, Geneseo was back within a point, and had three shots at the lead, only to have the ball bounce off the rim each time.
"If one of those drops, maybe it's a different outcome,'' lamented Geneseo coach Scott Hardison. "But it was not meant to be, and that's too bad considering how far these kids have come this season. We were 5-10 at one point, and were right there for a regional title.''
Besides Morrisey, who scored six of her game-best 10 points in the fourth quarter, Alleman also iced the game by hitting 12 of its final 14 free throws. Isabel Anderson (six points, three assists) and Anne Bohnert (nine points, three assists) combined to hit nine of those 10 late charity tosses.
"Early in the season, we had a game where we were 4-for-17 from the foul line,'' said Morrisey, who added seven rebounds and three assists. "It was ugly. But we concentrate on free throws in practice and it paid off. We shoot 30 minutes a day, for 60 practices this season, so that's a lot. But it was worth it.''
Zoe Kelso (nine rebounds) and Anna Wetherell (six points, three steals) also contributed to the victory.
Geneseo was led by Jamie DeFauw's eight points and game-best 11 rebounds. Molly DeBrock (nine points, six rebounds) and Anna Wise (eight points and two assists) also chipped in on a cold shooting night (12-for-44) for the Leafs.
"I've never coached a group of girls that liked each other so much,'' Hardison said. "That's the most important thing. Like I told them in the locker room after the game, 15 years from now, you're not going to remember this, you'll remember the people you played with and the bus trips, the overnights down at (the) State Farm (Holiday Tournament) and the silly things that happened in practice.''