TAYLOR RIDGE – Finally.
The Sherrard girls’ basketball team won its first sectional title since 1990 on Thursday night, defeating No. 2 Eureka 55-48 at Rockridge High School.
And the fourth-ranked Tigers did it without leading scorer Faith Anderson, who went down with a knee injury less than three minutes into the Class 2A sectional championship.
“We were worried, because she scores most of our points. We all had to step up and put in some work,” said Sherrard senior Kendra Mattingly.
Sherrard (28-3) got 16 points apiece from Mattingly and senior Callie Minch, and senior Spenser Strandgard added 13 points in the victory.
“Our best player went down, but our kids rallied around her,” Sherrard head coach Doug Swanson said. “I’m just really, really proud of what they did tonight.”
Sherrard had lost in the sectional final four times in Swanson’s first six seasons as the Tigers’ head coach, and things looked bleak on Thursday after Anderson crumpled to the court after grabbing a rebound early in the first quarter. But the Tigers stepped up defensively, limiting the Hornets (25-3) to just 33 percent shooting.
“I just told them to believe,” Swanson said was his message to his players following Anderson’s injury. “We’ve had to keep playing defense and things would be OK.”
Sherrard made the Hornets work for every shot. Minch pestered Eureka star Tessa Leman into a 4-for-21 night, while senior Claire Crippen was a force in the middle for the Tigers, swatting six shots.
“I really wanted to help out tonight since Faith wasn’t there, and she gets a lot of blocks, so I decided to try to get some blocks,” said Crippen, who also contributed six points and seven rebounds.
Minch scored eight of the Tigers’ 20 points in the first half, and Sherrard took a 20-14 lead to the locker room. Then she hit a 3-pointer, got a steal and banked in a runner to open the second half and push Sherrard’s lead to 11.
Eureka senior Payton Hodel, who led the Hornets with 14 points, drained a 3-pointer from the corner with seven seconds left in the third quarter to pull her team to within two. But that would be as close as the Hornets would get.
Mattingly, who scored 14 of her 16 points in the second half, took the ball the length of the floor and drew a foul with one-tenth of a second on the clock. She sank both free throws to give the Tigers a four-point lead heading to the fourth quarter. Then she hit a runner and added a layup, and Strandgard made two free throws to push Sherrard’s lead to 10.
Eureka made one final push, trimming the lead to four points with just over two minutes remaining. But Mattingly made the first of two free throws and then Crippen put back the missed second foul shot.
Just a few minutes later, the Tigers were cutting down the nets inside Rockridge High School.
“We’ve been practicing and we’ve been working hard for this,” Crippen said. “This is something we’ve been aiming for for quite a few years. It’s just an honor to be a part of this team and to get this far in the postseason.”
The Tigers will have their work cut out for them in Monday’s Class 2A supersectional in Monmouth. They will face Byron, a team who they lost to 64-39 in the Galesburg Shootout on Jan. 28, and they may have to do it without Anderson. But on Thursday night the Tigers were still basking in the glow of an accomplishment that had eluded them for so many years.
“It’s a great feeling,” Swanson said. “We’ve been here before and just came up short. We had great efforts, and it was a great effort again tonight. Fortunately, we were able to come out on top.”