NORMAL — Short-handed University High School drew a royal flush while winning the 37th annual Intercity Girls Basketball Tournament at Normal West High School on Tuesday.
The defending champions, playing without injured stars Chante Stonewall and Bailey Larsen, downed the host Wildcats, 37-26, to finish the round-robin 4-0 while Normal West went 0-4.
“We’re a lot different than we thought we’d be in July,” said U High coach Laura Sellers. “We’re a lot different than we thought we’d be at the beginning of the Intercity so we’ve got to keep moving forward.
“Any Intercity title is special. It’s special in regards that I don’t think very many people thought U High had a chance before the Intercity started and definitely not after Monday when Bailey went down. I think that is a little bit of motivation for our players to prove some things.”
After starting four juniors and a sophomore, the Pioneers, who only dressed eight players, set themselves up for a three-peat next season.
Tuesday’s second game saw Normal Community (3-1) earn second place with a 59-42 win over fourth-place Bloomington (1-3), which got 25 points from sophomore Ellie Weltha.
U High-Normal West
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Normal West had trouble passing and catching while committing 13 turnovers in a first half that saw U High go up, 16-8.
The Wildcats made an 11-4 run in the second half to get within seven, but a three-point play by Raven Hughes and a rebound basket by Jasmyne Lawrence sent U High on its way.
Hughes finished with 11 points and nine rebounds while Lawrence joined Amber Nanni and Addy Loeffler in the eight-point club. Lawrence had six points on layups off steals.
“I still think we’re trying to figure everything out,” said Sellers, whose team outrebounded the Wildcats, 28-18. “Defensively, I thought we were solid. I think there are going to be a lot of games that we have to win this way.”
West coach Corey Ostling coached Hughes and Nanni in junior high.
“They are just winners and they will find a way,” he said. “They will change positions. They will play outside. They’ll play inside. I think their adaptability to the situation, their calmness, helps them quite a bit.”
West outshot U High from the field, 41 percent to 30 percent, but the Pioneers took 44 shots, 17 more than the Wildcats, who committed 22 turnovers. U High sank all 11 of its free throws.
“Obviously we are still trying to get the offensive firepower back, but we’re working at it,” Sellers said. “We’re going to keep getting better.”
Olivia Peters and Jess Jacobs led West with seven points apiece. Maya Walker added six points and six rebounds.
Ostling was happy his team won the fourth quarter, 14-11.
“I talked earlier this tournament about effort,” he said. “It’s gotten better and better. It’s not where it needs to be. When you are young and figuring things out, effort is something you can give every single time.”
After earning a 9-8 lead after one quarter, NCHS outscored BHS by 16 the rest of the way by attacking Purple Raider pressure and attacking the rim.
Twelve Ironmen scored to help negate Weltha’s 25 points, which came on 9 of 21 shooting from the field.
“She’s a load,” said NCHS coach Marcus Mann. “We did everything we could as a team to try to minimize her impact.”
Summer Stoewer led NCHS with 13 points and six of her teammates had four or more.
“We’re very proud of our depth,” Mann said. “We can bring fresh girls in and continue to play hard.
“If you play against a team like Bloomington that has a really strong player like Ellie, we just hope we can wear them down and our depth will play a factor later in the game.”
BHS coach Tom Whiting saw his team make a 12-7 run to get within 44-35 with 6:16 left, but then the Raiders missed their next five shots while NCHS went on an 11-0 run.
“They were just better than us tonight,” Whiting said. “Ninety percent of our shots were in the paint and we missed a ton of shots.”
Stoewer had back-to-back driving baskets during that fourth-quarter surge.
“She’s a special talent with the ball in her hands,” Mann said. “She’s a single person trap breaker.”
Follow Randy Sharer on Twitter: @pg_sharer