Hoping history repeats itself, the Sullivan Lady Eagles advanced to the championship game of the Class 4 District 9 Tournament with a 51-46 win over Owensville Thursday at Borgia.
“We knew this would be a good game,” Sullivan Head Coach Jason Merkel said. “We had played Owensville twice, tough, this season. Trying to beat a really good team with a standout player (sophomore Hailey Diestelkamp) three times in one season is tough. I couldn’t be more proud of our girls and our effort tonight, though.”
Owensville Head Coach Dwayne Clingman lauded his team’s effort.
“We worked hard for that one,” Clingman said. “Sullivan is a great team. We worked hard on our part and everybody contributed. We just got better as the year went on. We’re just one rebound or turnover away from beating a state-ranked team like that. Eventually, it will come. I’m very proud of the way we played.”
The Lady Eagles (22-4) are the defending district champions and find themselves in the same position as last year.
“We brought back six of the eight who played on the state quarterfinal team last year,” Merkel said. “We definitely have experience with a senior-laden team, so that helps in games like this.”
Thursday’s win over Owensville (20-7) marked the third time this season Sullivan beat the Dutchgirls. In 2013, Sullivan swept the season series over Borgia, winning for the third time in the district semifinals.
And Sullivan will face the top-seeded host team for the second year in a row. Last year, Sullivan knocked out Pacific after Pacific won the regular-season game. This time, the Lady Eagles will get their second shot at Borgia (24-2).
The title contest is set for a 6 p.m. tipoff Saturday night and will be followed by the championship boys game.
“That was a real good team we knocked off tonight,” Merkel said.
In Thursday’s contest, the biggest highlight belonged to Diestelkamp, who reached the 1,000-point milestone by sinking two free throws with 4:15 to play. That gave Owensville its last lead in the game, 42-41.
“That’s big for our program, big for our school and big for our community,” Clingman said. “Our basketball team has helped the community rally around the school a little bit. Hailey is a special player. She brought cupcakes for everybody. We’re all going to ride home together and she wants to celebrate with her teammates as much as they wanted to celebrate her 1,000th point. She’s the real deal and a great kid.”
Diestelkamp, the third girl to reach that milestone in Owensville program history, led the Dutchgirls in the game with 16 points and will start her junior season with 1,002 career points.
It’s possible that the game was the final one for Clingman, who has been named the school’s athletic director for 2013-14, following Steve Tappmeyer.
“We’re still working on that,” Clingman said. “If we can’t work it out, we’ll find someone who is ready to run it and see what we can get done.”
Sullivan’s go-to player in the game was senior Taylor Lucas, who scored 21 points.
However, with the game on the line, Sullivan received contributions from its entire lineup. Five different Lady Eagles scored points during the pivotal fourth quarter.
Following Lucas in the scoring column was her twin sister, senior Aley Lucas, with 10 points.
Junior Megan Brandt netted nine points.
Junior Kaitlynn Hill scored eight points with six coming in the final quarter.
Senior Sierra Pryor netted three points for the game.
Owensville again showed its lineup depth with seven different players getting into the scoring column.
“We have 11 kids we play every night,” Clingman said. “On any given night, any of them can do what they have to do.”
Sophomore Brookelyn Limberg followed Diestelkamp with nine points.
Senior Miranda Robertson scored six points.
Junior Emily Ellis ended with five points.
Seniors Taylor Payne and Jaelyn Gauer and sophomore Bailey Nelson scored two points apiece.
Owensville graduates four players from this team. Gauer, Payne, Robertson and Dayla Gruenloh graduate this spring.
“We’re going to lose four great senior leaders and two starters,” Clingman said. “We really didn’t have starters. We had three people who started every game and rotated players into the other two spots. We learned a lot this year. We grew up. It’s going to be fun next year.”
Sullivan scored first in the game, but Owensville went on a nine-point run, forcing Merkel to take a timeout.
“I’ve got the utmost confidence in this team,” Merkel said. “If we can keep it close, I know we can grind it out and complete with anybody. It’s just a matter of staying in the game and staying composed.”
After the break, the Lady Eagles roared back to go ahead, 14-11. Owensville got a final basket before the end of the first quarter and it was 14-13 after one quarter.
Sullivan held a 26-23 lead at the intermission, but the teams were tied 34-34 after three quarters.
The two squads traded the lead through the fourth quarter. Owensville took its final lead on Diestelkamp’s 1,000th point, 42-41, but Sullivan showed its veteran playoff experience in distributing the ball around to find open shooters.
Hill put the Lady Eagles up with an open shot from the blocks. After both teams missed chances, Sullivan took a three-point lead on two free throws by Brandt.
That three-point advantage was huge. Owensville was able to cut it to one, but couldn’t take the lead. Sullivan sealed the win with four consecutive free throws by the Lucas twins in the final 15 seconds.