Allison Stiers has been the ringleader for three seasons in a successful run for Hermann’s girls basketball program, and Coach Chris Forrest of Lutheran North knew it. That put a target on Stiers’ back, and the Lady Bearcats struggled as she carried the load against the Crusaders in Wednesday’s Class 3 sectional at Francis Howell Central.

The Crusaders assigned senior Jordyn White to stick to Stiers like glue, and it worked as they notched a 54-37 win.

“They made it tough for her, that’s for sure,” said Head Coach Andy Emmons, who last Friday won a district championship in his first season as Hermann’s head basketball coach. “Her (White’s) on-the-ball defense was really good, and their whole team played strong and physical. They attacked the basket hard.”

What damaged Hermann’s offense the most was two early fouls against Stiers, who had to come to the bench midway through the first quarter.

“Foul trouble hurt us all game long,” said Emmons. “I knew this was going to be a big test, and we couldn’t afford to be in foul trouble.”

In the second half, starters Quincy Erickson (6-0 junior) and Emma Godat (5-10 senior) both picked up their fourth foul, and sophomore reserve guard Grace Winkelmann fouled out in the fourth quarter. Emmons said it was one of the most physical games his team has played this season.

“But we couldn’t finish some shots around the basket, and that hurt,” Emmons said. “They are a good team, and we needed to keep our girls out of foul trouble to play our game. That didn’t happen.”

While the Crusaders’ White did, indeed, slow down Stiers’ play and made her work hard on offense, it was the scoring of seniors Madison Buford and Kaylynn Hayden that fueled their offense. Buford scored a game-high 16 points and Hayden tossed in 14, while sophomore guard Taleah Dilworth added 10.

After North scored first to start the second quarter, the Lady Bearcats erased a six-point deficit when Stiers, Winkelmann and senior guard Caraline Brune scored consecutive baskets. It didn’t stay 16-all for long as Buford and Hayden connected for the Crusaders, who never lost the lead after that. Buford led the charge in the final minutes of the second quarter, scoring eight points in Lutheran North’s 12-2 run. It was a turning point in the game as the Crusaders took a 28-18 lead into intermission.

Emmons lamented: “We had to sit Allison a lot because of foul trouble, and foul trouble killed us, period.”

Still, Stiers, who has signed to play at Columbia College, scored close to her average with 13 points. She also pulled down eight rebounds to go with six assists. Erickson tossed in nine points and grabbed seven rebounds.

Lutheran North (24-6) moves on to play Whitfield (18-10) at 1:45 p.m. Saturday at Normandy High School.

Hermann shot just 26.7 from the field, hitting 12 of 45 shots, and made only 2 of 11 attempts from behind the three-point line. Lutheran North shot 40 percent from the field.

The Lady Bearcats stayed close and trailed 39-30 through the end of the third quarter, but Buford delivered again to give Lutheran North a little breathing room. She scored a couple of early baskets in the fourth quarter to give the Crusaders a double digit lead.

Emmons applauded his team on its 24-5 season.

“It is such a fine line to make it to the final four and advance out into the bracket,” he said. “We drew a tough assignment in the first round, but I’m really proud of these girls. They came along to win a conference championship (tied with Sullivan) and win a district title. They played hard and had a great year.”