NORMAL — Despite Ellie Weltha’s proficiency in the paint, Central Catholic High School’s basketball team downed Bloomington, 63-57, on opening night of the 39th annual Intercity Tournament at Normal Community on Monday.
Weltha had 26 points and 13 rebounds for the Purple Raiders, but the Saints got 28 points, eight rebounds and four assists from Lauren Shanks while Bailey Coffman provided 13 points, eight rebounds and four assists.
“Weltha’s just fun to watch,” said Central coach Debbie Coffman. “She’s hard to stop. We went to a zone to try to stop her. I thought we did a better job in the third quarter of that.
“We’ve got a young team, but they’re very teachable and coachable so it was nice to see us adjust. We play very hard.”
In other action, Normal Community overwhelmed University High, 55-30.
The tournament resumes at 6 p.m. on Wednesday with Normal West facing U High before NCHS takes on Central at 7:30.
BHS sprinted to a 12-6 lead before the Saints scrambled back behind 10 points from Shanks to take an 18-17 advantage after one quarter. Weltha’s 10 points in the second period powered the Raiders to a 29-28 halftime lead.
“We passed the ball really well,” Shanks said. “We have good shooters and a lot of good freshmen.”
Central was trailing 32-30 in the third quarter when back-to-back layups by Shanks sent Central on a 15-5 run. That flurry included two 3-pointers from Shanks, whose team finished with five 3-pointers.
“(Shanks) is a true leader,” Coffman said. “She really got us going the first quarter. The second quarter, we had other kids step up, which is big. The second half, we really played team basketball.”
The Saints, who last year lost to BHS 62-53 before later placing second in the state, opened the fourth quarter with an 8-0 run to go on top, 53-40. BHS never cut the gap below six after that. The Raiders got the worst of a 20-18 difference in turnovers.
“With this (Central) team, half of those turnovers are baskets going the other way,” lamented BHS coach Tom Whiting, whose team was outshot from the field, .472 to .411. “We’re going to chalk it up to the first game. We’re going to look back at this game and say, ‘that really wasn’t us.’”
The Iron flew to a 25-2 lead and enjoyed a 38-9 advantage at halftime. Eight players scored for NCHS in the first half. Summer Stoewers, Abby Feit and Caelyn Steffens led the way with eight, seven and six points, respectively.
“You couldn’t ask for a better start,” said NCHS coach Marcus Mann, after his first win over U High in the Intercity Tournament. “The ladies were on fire defensively and that led to how we came out.
“When they get good ball pressure and they’re willing to play in the gaps, it’s hard for teams to move the ball. We’re pretty athletic on the perimeter, so if we lock in and play our Lady Iron defense, we can be a handful.”
Feit finished with 15 points while Stoewer chipped in 11 as 10 players scored for the hosts.
“(Feit) is a stat stuffer,” Mann said. “She’s our leading rebounder. She blocks shots. She runs the floor and finishes in transition. Although she’s a six-footer, she moves like our guards do.”
Sophomore Grace Ward paced U High with nine points. The highlight for the Pioneers was an 11-2 run to draw within 50-24 in the fourth quarter.
U High coach Laura Sellers was impressed by NCHS.
“They’ve got kids who play in the summer,” she said. “They’ve got athleticism. They are hungry to win. They should win a lot.”
U High played without returning starter Addy Loeffler, who recently injured an ankle while playing for the Pioneers’ third-place volleyball team.