By R. Gaines For the Herald
The Clinton Herald
---- — NORMAL, Ill. -- Sometimes things are not as advertised. Sometimes they don’t live up to the hype, or even meet expectations. And sometimes they leave you in astonishment, left with your mouth wide open.
Unfortunately for the Prophetstown Lady Prophets basketball team, it was the latter.
After seeing their postseason end the two previous years to eventual Class 1A state champion Freeport and its all-state player, current Arizona State freshman Sophie Brunner, the Prophets moved up to Class 2A this season. Once again, the state champion and its star ended Prophetstown’s season, but this time it was in the girls basketball state championship game.
The Lady Prophets learned very quickly Saturday night that Champaign St. Thomas More’s Tori McCoy was no dropoff from the subtraction of Brunner, leading her team to a 70-34 victory in the 2A championship game at Redbird Arena.
St. Thomas More came into the season ranked No. 1 in Class 2A and went wire-to-wire with that ranking, finishing with a record of 32-2. Prophetstown more than held its own in 2A, finishing at 31-3. However, before those records could be finalized on the hardwood at Illinois State University, sophomore super sensation McCoy, all 6 feet, 4 inches of her, would leave no doubt to those in attendance that she was in a class of her own, as was her team.
“She’s even better than advertised” Lady Prophets junior Clare Kramer quipped following her first matchup with the phenom who already has hit the 1,000-point plateau in her second year of high school. “Maybe I can learn some tips from her.”
On this, the night of all nights, a dream come true after 37 seasons for Prophetstown coach Don Robinson and certainly his proud troops, it was all business for St. Thomas More, returning to the court where it fell in last season’s 2A championship game.
McCoy and Co. didn’t waste time, jumping to a 5-0 lead before Prophetstown junior Heather Strike struck with a layup off a feed from Corrie Reiley. But that lead quickly went to 19-5, and the first quarter ended with the Sabers up 26-8.
The alarming statistic from the first eight minutes was that the Sabers scored 24 points in the paint. That, no doubt was a concern for Prophetstown. You have to go through 6-4, 6-1, 6-0, 5-11 and 5-9 on St. Thomas More’s roster before you find anyone the height of Prophetstown’s tallest players (Kramer and Makayla Bolton, each 5-8). What was not Prophetstown-esque was that many of the points in the paint came off turnovers, with 5-5 all-state point guard, and Southern Indiana University signee, Randa Harshbarger lighting up the box score with three first-quarter steals to go with six quick points.
No matter the score, no matter the hype, the Prophets didn’t hesitate to take the court for the second quarter against a team that features not one, not two, but three first-team all-staters from a group of only 15 girls statewide. And for good measure, St. Thomas More can throw in a third-team all-stater and an all-state honorable mention selection.
Whether or not the Lady Prophets knew of those accolades, they never stopped competing.
When senior Karli Stafford drained a 3-pointer from the corner at the 4:03 mark of the second stanza, assisted by Corrie Reilly, all of a sudden the scoreboard showed a more mortal score of 31-14. Not quite a nail-biter but a score that surely gave hope to the Prophetstown faithful.
Sadly for the Prophets, those hopes faded. A 15-2 run by the Sabers unbalanced the scoreboard going into intermission with a 46-16 lead. By the end of the third quarter it was 63-24, not a good sign since the Lady Prophets hadn’t given up 63 points in a game all season.
As the fourth quarter played out, a layup by freshman Micki Walker put the Sabers at the 70 mark while their student section did chants of “Let’s score 100.”
Fittingly, for a team, a school, a community bubbling with pride over such special youngsters and their mentors, is that the game wound down like this: A 3-pointer by senior Brooke Remley on a Kaeli Kovarik assist to put her team at the 30 mark. Then a rebound and two made free throws by senior Kovarik. A rebound with :41 remaining by senior Cydney Westen and, lastly, a rebound and nothing but net on a jumper from the team’s fourth senior, Karlie Stafford.
“We built a relationship between all of us that will last a lifetime,” Robinson said. “Our seniors set the tone all year long. We never had anyone miss a single practice all year long; it’s amazing. Our GPAs are 3.3 or better. This was a special team; it was quite a ride.”
McCoy’s numbers were stellar but not eye-popping: 17 points, 10 rebounds, two blocks, two steals, two assists. Those stats all came in 19 minutes of play. She was followed by Alexa Wallen with 18 points, Elizabeth Bristow with 13 and Harshbarger with 12 points, five steals, four assists and no turnovers.
For Prophetstown, no one exceeded six points, five rebounds, or four assists.
When asked what feelings might be stirred up whenever he walks by the second-place trophy, Robinson quipped: “You know what it’s gonna stir? We did something great together. We did it with class. ... My team, they believed in me all year. I’m so proud of them.”
Robinson’s girls echoed those sentiments.
“Enjoy every minute of it; it will end sooner than you hope,” Stafford said as advice to those who will return. “I wish we could play forever. I love these girls. I love them all.”
Kramer added: “I respect coach Robinson so much; he’s such a great coach and even more a genuine person. To be here with him as a team and with this group of girls is such an honor, and it feels amazing just to be on this court.”
CHAMPAIGN ST. THOMAS MORE 70, PROPHETSTOWN 34
PROPHETSTOWN (31-3) — Karlie Stafford 2 1-2 6, Clare Kramer 0 4-4 4, Corrie Reiley 2 0-0 4, Heather Strike 1 1-1 3, Shelby Adams 0 0-0 0, Kassi Henrekin 2 0-0 6, Kaeli Kovarik 1 3-5 5, Calya Crane 1 0-0 2, Cydney Westen 0 0-0 0, Brooke Remley 1 1-3 4, Makayla Bolton 0 0-0 0. Totals 10 10-15 34.
ST. THOMAS MORE (33-2) — Tori McCoy 8 1-2 17, Alexa Wallen 8 0-0 18, Randa Harshbarger 5 0-0 12, Courtney Wax 0 0-0 0, Elizabeth Bristow 5 3-4 13, Hannah Murray 0 0-0 0, Allie Kreie 0 0-0 0, Micki Walker 1 0-0 2, Eliza Kramer 1 0-0 2, Andie Bolton 0 0-0 0, Lauren Croft 1 0-0 3, Taylor During 0 0-0 0, Leah Allison 1 0-0 3, Madison McCoy 0 0-0 0. Totals 30 4-12 70.
Prophetstown 8 8 8 10 — 34
St. Thomas More 26 20 17 7 — 70
3-point goals — Prophetstown 4 (Henrekin 2, Remley, Stafford), St. Thomas More 6 (Harshbarger 2, Wallen 2, Allison, Croft). Total fouls — Prophetstown 10, St. Thomas More 15. Fouled out — None.