Union controlled the tempo.
But Sullivan controlled the score and the top-seeded Lady Eagles knocked out Union in the Class 4 District 6 Girls Basketball Tournament at Union, 52-39.
Sullivan (22-4) advanced to Friday’s title game against second-seeded St. Clair (20-6) with the victory. Union finished its season at 13-14.
“We felt Union is one of the hottest teams in the area,” Sullivan Head Coach Jason Merkel said. “Just how they’ve been playing lately, they’re playing with a lot of confidence and Dusty (Weiskopf) has them trending in the right direction. They’re young and they’re hungry so we knew they were going to be a dangerous opponent tonight. For the most part, our kids got through their nerves in the first quarter and came out and played. It wasn’t pretty, but that gives credit to Union in the way they guard and mix the game up, we needed to make sure we could play through it and we did.”
Weiskopf, Union’s head coach, credited Sullivan.
“They’re so good and experienced and they can shoot the ball,” Weiskopf said. “We could never get that stop we needed. They ran their stuff and they executed. I think for three quarters, we could chip at it but never could pull ahead. I thought we did a really good job. I’m proud of my kids.”
Sullivan led 7-6 after one quarter, getting a three-point basket from senior Bria Jones to take the lead late in the quarter.
Union kept the tempo slow and jumped back in front to start the second quarter as junior Taylor Seely hit a three-point bucket.
“Our goal was to not let them control the pace and at times I thought we did that,” Weiskopf said.
Sullivan went on a seven-point run to take the lead and was able to slowly add to the advantage. It was 24-17 at the half and 37-28 after three quarters.
“We missed a lot of easy shots and our defense wasn’t really on point tonight,” Merkel said. “We didn’t do a good job guarding or defending like I would like. We hit a few shots and the buzzer-beater at the end of the third quarter (a three from sophomore Kya Harbour) was huge. We hit another three (freshman Hanna Johanning) on the first possession of the fourth quarter. Those were big and we knew we probably could grind out enough stops, but it was a difficult task tonight.”
Sullivan was able to get clutch outside shots, including threes from Harbour and Johanning for the second time against Union. Both players had also hit big threes during Sullivan’s previous Four Rivers Conference win over Union.
“Harbour and Johanning snakebit us twice now,” said Weiskopf said. “That’s two games in a row when they hit some big shots against us. I tip my cap to them.”
Sullivan hit seven three-point baskets while going 9-14 from the free-throw line.
Sophomore Mallory Shetley led Sullivan in scoring with 20 points. She hit three three-point baskets and went 5-6 from the free-throw line.
Senior Clare Shetley netted 11 points.
Jones had 10 points. She knocked down two three-point baskets and was 2-2 from the free-throw line.
Harbour ended with seven points while Johanning scored three and junior Kathleen Creek had one point.
For Union, senior Kennedy Reeser and Seely tied for the scoring lead with 10 points apiece.
Reeser, Union’s lone senior, never left the floor during her final high school basketball game.
“Kennedy has been with me for five years now and I appreciate everything she’s done for me,” Weiskopf said. “It’s hard to see a kid like that go.”
Freshman Julia Overstreet scored six points. Freshman Emily Gaebe and junior Kaylee Bunch each scored five points. Junior Emily Webb added three points.
“Basketball aside, they’re going to be good people,” Weiskopf said. “They play hard, they work hard, they take my coaching and they listen. They do really good things. They go down swinging and that’s what we wanted. They played hard. I can’t be more proud of them. I hated for it to end the way it did.”
Union got five three-point baskets from five different players. The Lady ’Cats went 10-12 from the free-throw line.
“All bets are off Friday night and you’ve got to take it one game at a time,” Merkel said. “You’re only guaranteed those next 32 minutes and you’ve got to show up and play. Hopefully, you’re prepared enough and you make enough plays. It’s going to be a grind. Your regular-season record doesn’t matter at this point. You just hope your kids are focused, come out and compete and everything will fall where it goes.”