DIXON – While all-star games are usually known for offensive output, some dazzling defense, especially by AFC grad Bryce Gittleson, was the turning point in this one.
The 5-foot-2 Gittleson came up with a pair of key steals in the last few minutes, helping the Telegraph squad hang on for a 34-30 victory against the Gazette on
Thursday night at Sauk Valley Community College.
The last of Gittleson’s four steals came just after Gazette coach Tyler Whitebread had called a timeout to set up a play with 37 seconds remaining, and his team trailing by the eventual final score. Instead, Gittleson came up with a key theft, and the Telegraph was able to protect a four-point lead the rest of the way.
“Defense is my key to basketball,” Gittleson said. “Being my size and not the best at shooting, and I’ll admit that openly, I work really hard on defense and hustle. When I know that they need me, I work twice as hard.”
The Gazette trailed 30-22 with a minute left in the third quarter, but closed to within 30-28 after a basket from Fulton’s Jordan Price with 4:32 left in the contest.
The Telegraph then got buckets from two Dixon players, Isabelle Shiaras and Ellie Provo, to push the lead back to six points (34-28) with 3:48 to play.
The Gazette’s last points – the last points for either team, actually – came on two free throws from Morrison grad Emma Melton with 2:24 to play.
“We definitely had some shots that could have went in and didn’t,” Gazette coach Tyler Whitebread said. “It was nice to see my Morrison girls get in there for the last time and finish the game out. Win or lose, being their coach, I think they deserved to have that opportunity.”
The game MVP was Provo, who finished with eight points, six rebounds and one steal. A soccer player in the spring, Provo noted she hadn’t played hardly any basketball since the Duchesses’ season ended on Feb. 14 after a regional loss to Rock Falls.
She was just glad she and her teammates were able to hang on in what became a tight affair late.
“I feel like that drive really pushed us in the end,” Provo said. “When they were heating up and getting closer, that pushed us to keep the lead.”
Newman’s Kelsey Simpson finished with five points and six rebounds for the Telegraph, while fellow Newman grad Mady Ferris added four points.
Telegraph coach Mike McCracken did his best to keep groups of players from schools together on the court, at least for one stretch of play. He had four of his own players from Amboy, three each from AFC, Dixon and Newman, and two from Polo.
“That became hard to do in the second half, but we got the job done,” McCracken said. “I wasn’t sure how we were gelling at practice, but they really came together tonight and had some fun.”
Morrison’s Jaeden Workman led the Gazette with five points, while the Fillies’ Emma Melton, Fulton’s Price and Eastland’s Makenzie Fink added four each. Melton and Morrison’s Emma Sitzmore each grabbed five rebounds. Milledgeville’s Sidney Aude had three steals, and her 3-pointer early in the fourth quarter brought her team to within 30-26.
“We had a lot of girls that were playing really hard, and we were trying to pull the lead, but we couldn’t make it happen for some reason,” Sterling grad Cheyenne Harrington said.
As is always the case, the game brought together athletes who competed against each other for 4 years, or perhaps girls from larger schools who were able to square off against girls from smaller schools for the first time.
“Maybe I thought they were mean on the court, but they’re also really nice people,” Provo said. “It was a great experience, being involved in this.”
“It was a lot of fun getting to play with the girls that I played against the last 4 years,” Ferris added. “It was kind of cool to put it all together, what we have, all of our different skills. It was fun.”