JACKSONVILLE – Schools with the colors of kelly green and white have given Pleasant Plains fits in the supersectional round of the girls’ postseason.
First it was Carrollton and on Feb. 19 it was Eureka, who dropped the Cardinals 54-47 at Sherman Gymnasium on the Illinois College campus.
Elsewhere, the Hornets rallied from a near double-digit fourth quarter deficit to knock off Midwest Central/Delavan 64-62 in the Feb. 15 Farmington Sectional final.
In back-to-back supers of 1998 and ‘99, the Cardinals (28-4) lost by a combined 63 points to Carrollton.
Their main nemesis on Monday was Tessa Leman. The high-scoring senior managed only two points in the first quarter, but erupted for 27 the rest of the way for Eureka (28-3).
“My teammates were helping me, giving me great passes and we were getting turnovers,” commented Leman. “When it’s this time of the year, you do whatever you have to do.”
With the score knotted at 29-all tie, Leman gave the Hornets a lasting lead with a conventional three-point play (basket and free throw) for a 32-29 score with four minutes and 29 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
Leman was able to get into the three-second area and the Cardinals had no answer for her.
“She’s a tall guard. She’s going to give teams fits in the state finals,” commented Eureka coach Jerry Prina, whose team set a single season program record for wins. “The nice thing with that is we have other scoring options if she needs to kick it out.”
Eureka extended the lead to as many as 10 at 51-41. The Cardinals got as close as five at 52-47.
According to Prina, the board work his team did went a long ways toward the outcome. Eureka outrebounded Pleasant Plains 44 to 24, including a 10 to three edge on the offensive side.
“I thought the stat of the night was rebounding,” he said. “I thought we did a great job of rebounding. I can only remember when they had one (offensive) rebound and kick out three.”
Natalie Bardwell added 11 points for the Hornets, who will make the program’s third appearance in the state finals (’86 and ’88 were the others).
Eureka, who extended their winning streak to 19 in a row, advanced despite committing a season-high 24 turnovers.
“We realized we needed to slow the game down,” Bardwell said. “A lot of our turnovers were because we tried to speed the game up too much.”
Pleasant Plains, who has only one senior on the roster and five of their top six players being sophomores or younger, received 18 points from Caroline Jachino. First-year guard Asya Smith added 12 points for the Cardinals, whose 11-game win streak ended.
With the game being held 30 minutes from Pleasant Plains and despite the fact Eureka wore white uniforms, it was for all intended purposes a road game for the Hornets.
“We knew what that was like last year,” said Prina referring to playing Sherrard at nearby Rockridge. “I want to thank the Booster Club for renting a bus for us and for the fans getting down here through the weather. I’m proud of these girls and the effort they’ve given the last four years. It’s just incredible to get to this point.”
The Cardinals were guilty of 17 turnovers.
With four minutes and charge left, the Hornets trailed 60-51. With no other resort, they decided to press fullcourt.
“We have not done it all season. It got to the point we had to,” Prina said. “I was pleased to see the girls step up. They know how to turn it up.”
Over that stretch, the press triggered five turnovers. The final one, a steal from Leman, resulted in a foul and two free throws. She made the first to tie it at 62, but missed the second.
However, janey on the spot was Bardwell, who got the putback to fall, to give the Hornets a 64-62 lead with 19.1 seconds remaining.
“It was pandemonium. Our bench was on their feet. Our crowd was going crazy,” commented Prina following the go-ahead hoop.
That was Eureka’s third and last offensive rebound.
MC/D (22-10) had a chance to tie, but missed their first opportunity following a timeout. A jump ball resulted in the Raiders retaining via the alternate possession rule. With three seconds left, Megan Teel got off a foul-line jumper that hit the backboard and no rim. Neither team was able to establish possession as time expired.
All told, Eureka capped off the game on a 13-2 spurt.
“I know we gave up a lot of points, but I still thought we defended really well because that’s one of the best defensive teams we’ve seen all year,” said MC/D coach Eric Weaver. “We made them take tough shots and they just made them.”
Bardwell poured in 23 points, 18 of which came in the first half. Leman followed with 18.
Teal ended up with 18 for the Raiders, who were led by sophomore sharpshooter Mady Harper’s 25 points. Six of her nine field goals were three-pointers.
“It came down to resiliency,” summed up Prina. “I’ll say it again and again, this team does not quit.”
The Hornets were plus-12 on free throws, 15 to three.
Notes: Bardwell (11) and Leman (10) combined to score the Hornets’ first 21 points on Thursday. Leman was one of 26 high schoolers tabbed to the state all-academic squad. The criteria for inclusion include maintain a grade point average of at least a 3.5 on a 4.0 scale after the seventh semester, participate in at least two extra-curricular activities during the last two years and demonstrate outstanding citizenship.