JOY — Both Megan McCracken and Gabbi Loiz admitted to Friday's Class 2A Mercer County Regional championship game having a bittersweet taste to it.
Coaching the Alleman girls' basketball team against top-seeded Riverdale in Friday's title showdown, McCracken was going up against her former prep coach, Jay Hatch. McCracken's senior guard Loiz had also played for Hatch as a freshman.
The sweetness came when the buzzer sounded and the fourth-seeded Pioneers got to celebrate a 42-29 victory over the Rams for their first regional-title plaque since 2013. The bitter feeling came from doing it against the man who carved out a Hall of Fame career and produced a state championship during his two-decade long tenure at Alleman.
"I'd played under Coach Hatch my first year here, and he's a great coach," said Loiz, who added nine points, five rebounds and three steals to the Pioneers' winning performance. "To win it against him, it's kind of a big deal, not only for me but for Megan. At the same time, it's kind of bittersweet."
Third-year Alleman coach McCracken, who succeeded her prep mentor at her alma mater, felt very much the same way after her 13-14 squad advanced to Monday's Oregon Sectional semifinal matchup with Spring Valley Hall.
"It's one of those situations where I have too much respect for Coach Hatch," she said. "I would not have had the success I've had without him. We knew Riverdale would be extremely well prepared for this game; he has a great mind for the game. They came out with a lot of intensity, and took us out of what we wanted to do early."
Indeed, after the Pioneers took an 8-6 lead after the opening quarter, the Rams (20-7) got a big boost from sophomore forward Shae Hanrahan, who scored seven of her team-high eight points in the second quarter and helped fuel a 9-0 run that gave Riverdale a 17-14 lead. Alleman battled back to forge an 18-18 halftime tie, but the momentum seemed to be with the Rams.
That is until Hanrahan, who added six rebounds and two steals, went down with an ankle injury just 17 seconds into the third period and had to be carried off the court. Riverdale did get a quick surge to go up 23-19 on a Brooke Smeltzly 3-pointer and a Molly Sharp steal and bucket, but the Pioneers turned around and reeled off 14 unanswered points to take a 33-23 lead into the final quarter.
"Obviously, Shae is one of our better players, and her not being out there was not good for us," said Hatch, who also got seven points and three steals from Sharp. "We just got very stagnant on offense, settling for one pass and then a shot. We didn't execute the way we needed to. Give Alleman credit, their defense had a lot to do with it."
While the Pioneers were clamping down defensively, senior guard DeAjah Woods was stepping up to provide an offensive spark as Loiz battled some early foul trouble. Woods finished with game highs of 11 points and seven rebounds, and matched Loiz with three steals.
"We were definitely working hard for this," she said. "We'd had a bumpy season, but we were looking forward to regionals. Every game prepared us for this moment."
With Natika Woods adding eight points and reserves Maddie Porter and Avrie Schmidt chipping in seven points and five rebounds, respectively, Alleman shot 50 percent (17 of 34) from the field to punch its sectional ticket.
"This is an extraordinary moment," DeAjah Woods said. "This was definitely a team win."
Riverdale can look forward to the return of the majority of its roster next season after a season in which it won the Three Rivers Conference's West Division. However, that was small consolation for the Rams after the buzzer sounded Friday night.
"We've got a lot of kids hurting right now," said Hatch. "That's how it should be. This meant a lot to them."
Sherrard 39, Fulton 23: The Sherrard Tigers hit the floor with plenty of momentum in Friday night’s Erie-Prophetstown Class 2A girls’ basketball championship game at Prophetstown Middle School, and overcame a slow start on their way to claiming the championship trophy with a 39-23 victory over the Fulton Steamers.
The third-seeded Tigers, coming off of a two-point semifinal victory over Erie-Prophetstown, relied on a balanced scoring attack and tenacious defense to pull away from the eighth-seeded Steamers.
Sherrard moves on to the Oregon Sectional to face Winnebago — an 81-48 winner over Byron on Friday — on Monday at 7:30 p.m.
Sherrard freshman guard Sydney Adamson outscored Fulton in the first quarter by herself, as the Tigers led 9-7 after the first.
— Tom Schroeder, Dispatch-Argus