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Sabers star lives up to hype against Prophets

Published: Sunday, March 2, 2014 12:48 a.m. CDT • Updated: Monday, March 3, 2014 8:20 a.m. CDT
Caption
(Philip Marruffo/pmarruffo@saukvalley.com)
The Prophetstown girls basketball team hoists the Class 2A second-place trophy on Saturday at Redbird Arena. The Prophets fell to St. Thomas More 70-34 in the championship game.

NORMAL – The elation of reaching the Class 2A championship game clashed with harsh reality for the Prophetstown girls basketball team on Saturday.

The Prophets were chock full of feel-good stories on their path to Normal for their first-ever appearance in the state tournament. Unfortunately for them, waiting at the end was a foe, St. Thomas More, that neither they nor anybody else in 2A have much of a chance to hang with.

The result was a 70-34 victory for the Sabers. The only thing in doubt was whether St. Thomas More would crack the 100-point mark, as their over-caffeinated student section pleaded for – but was not attained due to the limited minutes played by the starters.

“Honestly, I didn’t think they were going to be that tough, but once the game started, they proved me wrong,” Prophetstown junior Clare Kramer said. “They were just so tough to guard. They handled me very well, and they handled pretty much our whole offense very well. Kudos to them for being a great team.”

For St. Thomas More (33-2), it marked the end of what was a year-long quest. The Sabers lost the 2A title game a year ago to Nashville, 42-29, and were bound and determined not to let that happen again. Their only losses were to larger schools, Bishop McNamara and Whitney Young.

“To finish if off this year feels really, really good,” sophomore forward Tori McCoy said. “We were ready to play this season. Our motto was, ‘Who is working harder than us in practice? We were.’ We showed it out on the court.”

The 6-foot-4 McCoy is one of top sophomores in the country, with a combination of size and speed rarely seen in small-school basketball. She towered over the Prophets, whose tallest starter, Kramer, stood 5-8.

McCoy, a first-team all-stater, scored at will in the post, but was nimble enough to play point guard as well. She stuffed the stat sheet with 17 points, 10 rebounds, two steals, two blocks and two assists in 19 minutes of action.

She entered the game with 997 career points. Her second basket, with 5 minutes, 48 seconds remaining in the first quarter, put her over 1,000 points for her career.

McCoy will have her pick of colleges to attend in 2 years; UConn coach Geno Auriemma is among the those who have already been courting her. Kramer had the unenviable task of trying to guard her.

“She is the best post I’ve ever gone against – besides [former Aquin star] Sophie Brunner,” Kramer said. “She’s always going to be my model.”

McCoy was far from a one-person show, however. Alexa Wallen, a junior and a second-team all-stater, finished with 18 points on 8-for-11 shooting. She also drained a pair of 3-pointers.

Elizabeth Bristow, a cat-quick 5-5 junior, scored eight of her 13 points in the first quarter to help get the Sabers off to a fast start.

Randa Harshbarger, a 5-5 senior point guard headed to Southern Indiana University next season, ran the show effectively with 12 points, five steals, four assists and no turnovers. She was a first-team all-stater as a junior, and an honorable mention pick this season.

For Prophetstown (31-3), Karlie Stafford and Kassi Henrekin each had six points, and Kaeli Kovarik added five. The Prophets shot just 19.6 percent (10-for-51) from the field – including 16 percent (4-for-25) from 3-point range – were outrebounded 45-33, had 18 turnovers to the Sabers’ nine, and had just six assists to St. Thomas More’s 16.

It all added up to a margin of defeat a team that had won 24 consecutive games didn’t see coming.

“I was very surprised,” junior point guard Corrie Reiley said. “We’ve never been beaten like this – not even in middle school or fifth grade. I’ve never been beat by this much. It was really eye-opening to how good they actually were.”

Prophetstown was also pretty good. The Prophets ran the table in the Three Rivers North, won the Aurora Christian Sectional title against a pair of area heavyweights in Oregon and Byron, then won two more games to make it to the title game.

Tears flowed and hugs were shared on the Doug Collins Court at Redbird Arena after receiving the second-place trophy, with an adoring orange-clad throng in the stands voicing their approval.

“I love this team so much,” Kramer said. “Nobody thought we would get here in the first place, and to be on this floor is such an honor.”

Star of the game: Tori McCoy, St. Thomas More, 17 points, 10 rebounds

Key performers: Alexa Wallen, St. Thomas More, 18 points, 5 rebounds; Randa Harshbarger, St. Thomas More, 12 points, 5 steals, 4 assists; Karlie Stafford, Kassi Henrekin, Prophetstown, 6 points apiece

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