NORMAL – Eastland trailed Lewistown by 10 at the half in the Class 1A girls basketball state championship game on Saturday at Redbird Arena.
But there was no panic from the Cougars. They came out with the first 10 points to start the third quarter and got one defensive stop after another – a steal from Erin Henze, an offensive foul against Lewistown, three straight trips down the floor for the Indians resulting in one shot, a miss, and an Eastland defensive rebound.
That run was enough for the Cougars to tie the game, and after a back-and-forth third and fourth quarter, the Cougars pulled out the 62-57 win to claim the state championship.
“It was all down to [Eastland coach Nicole] Brinker’s halftime speech,” Cougars senior guard Lydia Coatney said. “She said, ‘Play for each other,’ and we we all just came together and played for the person next to us.”
The Cougars opened the third quarter with a putback by Meredith Janssen, then Henze hit a pair of free throws, Coatney added a pull-up jumper, then Dani Rush drove to the basket for a score and hit a jumper with 4 minutes left in the quarter. What had been a 36-26 Indians lead when the teams came out of their locker rooms suddenly was a 36-36 tie.
“We went into halftime and talked it out. We knew we had to pick up our defense and pick up our intensity,” Henze said. “Just leave it all out on the floor, because this was our last game no matter what.”
Lewistown, which entered the game ranked No. 1 in the state, and had scored 36 in the first half, was held scoreless for the first 4 minutes of the third quarter, and finished that quarter with just five points.
“We didn’t switch anything, we just executed,” Brinker said. “They were supposed to switching all screens. We did go from hanging on [Anna Heffren] to everybody switching, and I think that helped because we got a little confused about who was switching and who was staying. They just decided to lock in and play defense.”
From there, the game entered a frenetic stretch that saw the lead change hands eight times. Heffren, Lewistown’s all-state guard, broke the 36-36 tie with a layup. Coatney tied it again hitting a floater in the lane. Lewistown took the lead on a Macy Mikulich free throw. Coatney then fed Henze for a 3-pointer to put Eastland up 41-39, the Cougars’ first lead since the 2-minute mark of the first quarter.
That was one of six assists in the game for Coatney, with half of those resulting in 3-pointers by Henze.
“She’s an awesome athlete, an awesome passer, and an awesome teammate,” Henze said. “She’ll look to drive and get some crazy-good shots, but she’ll also look to dish just as much.”
After Henze put Eastland in front, Heffren tied it again with a pair of free throws to send the game to the fourth quarter tied 41-41.
A Heffren layup put Lewistown back in front before Henze tied it again with free throws, then Janssen grabbed a steal and found Henze, who drew a pair of defenders to her as she drove toward the rim and dished it to a wide-open Janssen for a layup. Mikulich put Lewistown back in front on a 3-pointer, but Eastland answered with a Karlie Krogman post move for a basket to put the Cougars up 47-46 with 5:12 left.
“Their girls are kind of short, so we were able to get it into the post for an easy layup,” Krogman said. “But three points is more than two, so if we can get it out to Erin and she can hit a 3, that’s good.”
Krogman then got a steal on the other end and Coatney fed Rush for a 3-pointer from the left wing to put Eastland up 50-46.
Lewistown fought back to tie it, a layup from Heffren making it 52-52 with 3:11 left, but that tie lasted only 16 seconds before Henze split a pair of defenders in the lane to answer on the other end, and Eastland led from then on.
The Cougars closed the game out by hitting 8 of 10 from the free-throw line.
“I thought they hit some big shots. I thought we missed some shots that we had good looks at,” Lewistown coach Greg Bennett said. “It’s nothing to be ashamed of. We’ll take the second-place trophy. We’d like to have the first, but they out-executed us down the stretch.”
Lewistown brought its full-court press, and that caused plenty of problems for Eastland in the first half. The Cougars turned the ball over 10 times, resulting in 11 Lewistown points.
“Just the same thing we’ve done all year,” Heffren said. “Our pressure was working really good against them, but they came out of half fired up and ready to go, and we just didn’t match that intensity.”
Eastland has seen pressing teams in the past; Chicago Hope Academy threw the press at them in Monday’s supersectional. But this was different.
“They fly at you,” Krogman said. “They’ll run and they’re jumping up and down. You have to be strong with the ball or they will take it from you because they are so aggressive.”
But Eastland got used to the press in the second half, and Lewistown wound up turning the ball over more in the second half than the Cougars did.
“Eastland’s got good athletes, and good athletes can usually find a way to deal with pressure,” Bennett said. “They did, and sometimes we just didn’t get quite where we were supposed to. It’s just one of those games. You play that tough game [Friday], you come back and play another tough opponent [Saturday]. Eastland’s definitely as good as anybody we’ve played all year, and they made more plays down the stretch that we did.”
Sydney Shaeffer scored 16 points for Lewistown, with all of them coming in the first half; she missed all three shots from the field she attempted in the second half. Shaeffer also pulled down six rebounds. Anna Heffren led the Indians with 22 points and three steals, and Mikulich added 12 points and four boards. Carli Heffren scored five points while also adding team highs of seven rebounds and five assists.
Henze scored 20 in her final game for the Cougars, and she also had seven rebounds and four steals. Coatney scored 15 and had six rebounds to go with those six assists, and Rush added 12 points. Janssen finished with nine points and four rebounds, and Krogman chipped in six points, eight boards and two blocks.
1A state championship
Eastland 62, Lewistown 57
Star of the game: Erin Henze, Eastland, 20 points, 4 steals
Key performers: Lydia Coatney, Eastland, 15 points, 6 assists; Anna Heffren, Lewistown, 22 points; Karlie Krogman, Eastland, 6 points, 8 rebounds; Dani Rush, Eastland, 12 points; Meredith Janssen, Eastland, 9 points; Sydney Shaeffer, Lewistown, 16 points.