While they could share the Four Rivers Conference championship, they could not share the district title.
Sullivan’s Lady Eagles basketball (23-4) made sure that honor was all theirs as they held St. Clair (20-7) to just 26 points in the Class 4 District 6 championship game, winning 41-26.
The win marked the second consecutive district title for Sullivan, who will advance to play MICDS in the sectional round Tuesday at Kirkwood. The girls sectional tips off at 6 p.m.
“That’s big,” Head Coach Jason Merkel said of achieving a second title in a row. “With everybody that we had coming back this last year, and that was just their expectation. They truly wanted to do this and so they felt that pressure all year long to win and to come in here and try to repeat, and we knew it wasn’t going to be easy by any stretch. It’s big. I think it speaks to their character a lot and just the work and dedication that they put in for this year.”
Merkel’s squad held the Lady Bulldogs to less than 10 points in all four quarters.
“They have three excellent ballplayers and they’ve got a great team,” St. Clair Head Coach Mike Scheer said. “We just didn’t get it in the basket enough. You can only play defense so many possessions and you’ve got to put the ball in the hole a little bit and we didn’t. We missed free throws and I don’t know how many we had, but we had a lot of turnovers. That was the big name of the game and that’s because of their defense. You’ve got to give them credit and they have the record that they have because they can play, because they’re coached really well. Really happy with what we had this year and just have to keep building off of that.”
The senior tandem of Clare Shetley and Bria Jones both got into double figures for Sullivan.
Shetley posted a game high 13 points. Jones finished with 11 points.
Mallory Shetley was next with nine points.
Kya Harbour added six points and Lauren Hoffman chipped in two points.
For St. Clair, Haley Buscher and Hannah Machelette tied with the team high of six points each.
Kenzie Schmidtke scored five points.
Megan Hinson notched four points.
Erin York and Gracie Sohn finished with two points apiece.
Alohilani Bursey rounded out the scoresheet with one point.
Clare and Mallory Shetley both made it difficult for St. Clair inside all night.
“Me and my sister, we just decide to work hard down there and most of the time we’re just trying not to let in any layups,” Clare Shetley said. “That’s what coach preaches — no layups in the paint.”
After a strong defensive first period for both teams, Sullivan held a slim 6-5 lead.
However, Sullivan came out in the second quarter on an 11-0 run before taking a 19-10 advantage into halftime.
The Lady Eagles stayed in control, leading 29-19 after three quarters.
The loss marks the end of the varsity careers for St. Clair seniors Hinson, Schmidtke and Graci Shirey.
“Fantastic group,” Scheer said of his seniors. “They did everything I asked. First year coach with them, so that was kind of new for them but they’ve been just fantastic for me. The whole program has just welcomed me with open arms so it’s been great.”
With the district championship victory, Sullivan extended its streak of eight consecutive games of allowing less than 40 points and marked the second time in that streak they held an opponent below 30.
“The Shetleys, they can change and alter a lot of shots that come in,” Merkel said. “We try to make sure we square everybody up and keep everybody in front of us. St. Clair got a couple of girls that were able to dribble-drive past us and fortunately for us they were kind of hanging around right there to change or alter a shot. We’ve just got to rely heavily on our defense, but we’ve got to play better offensively if we’re going to go any further.”
Playing the team they were forced to split the conference championship with gave Sullivan some added some extra motivation during that week’s practices.
“It might have played a little part into it,” Merkel said. “Social media does a lot for kids and gets them fired up any more. You can kind of control your own destiny in conference and we didn’t beat Hermann up at Hermann this year, so we just had to settle with that result and be a conference co-champ and that’s fine. There’s no bad team within our conference and St. Clair is a good team, but yeah, there was a little extra motivation.”
Sullivan will head into Tuesday’s sectional against MICDS looking to improve on last season’s result, where they were bounced by last year’s District 5 champion, Parkway North.
“I’m so excited,” Jones said. “I just want to get past sectionals this time instead of losing like we did last year. I want to get past it and get to the Final Four because that’s my dream.”
A win would send Sullivan back to the state quarterfinals for the first time in six years.
In one prior meeting this season, the Lady Rams topped Sullivan, 61-41, in the Lady Eagles’ own gym on Jan. 30.