EFFINGHAM -- Even though Sullivan trailed by six points to Marshall going into halftime in Monday’s Class 2A girls’ sectional semifinal, Sullivan coach Sheri McCain wasn’t disappointed in her defense, but she said she thought it could pick up.
Sullivan’s defense immediately got to Marshall in the third quarter. Sullivan scored 10 points off turnovers in the third quarter and forced Marshall to turn the ball over seven times as the Lady Redskins took a four-point lead going into the fourth.
Sullivan held onto the lead as the fifth-seeded Lady Redskins went on to beat top-seeded Marshall 45-41 to advance to their first sectional final since the 2001-02 season.
“It’s unimaginable. I am just so proud of these girls,” McCain said. “I think everyone counted the number five seed out, but these girls have worked hard all season long and are doing something that no other team that I’ve coached has been able to do and that’s get to the Sweet 16.
“They are just playing together, they are playing as a team and they are just fearless right now. They aren’t going to down without a fight.”
Sullivan improved to 16-12 with the win and Marshall’s season ended with a 21-7 record.
Junior Esther Miller had faith in her team’s ability to make a deep postseason run.
“It feels pretty good. Our goal from the beginning of the year was to win conference and that didn’t happen. But coming into regionals, it was a clean slate and we could start over and get going,” Miller said. “I think we are a pretty good team and have come a long way.”
Sullivan plays Teutopolis for the 2A sectional championship at 7 p.m. on Thursday at Effingham St. Anthony High School.
Sullivan’s pressure on the perimeter not only forced Marshall into a good amount of turnovers (14 for the game), but Sullivan also held Marshall to 16 points total in the second half, including only six points in the third quarter.
“We knew what they were capable of doing and we knew they were going to take threes. (Chloe) Hughes is huge out there and (Macy Clark) as well. We had a hard time stopping both of them at the same time,” McCain said. “I just think the girls stepped up their defense. They fought until the very end and got some key rebounds when we needed them, especially on the offense end.”
Sullivan controlled the boards against Marshall. Sullivan held a 35 to 26 edge on the boards and 11 of those were team rebounds where Marshall couldn’t get to the ball and it went out of bounds or turned into a jump ball. Miller had eight rebounds for Sullivan.
“We’ve talked about that all year. Rebounding wins championships,” McCain said. “The last three games, we went into halftime being outrebounded and we told them that the difference is rebounding and they’ve always come out and outrebounded the other teams.
“The girls come up with huge offensive rebounds when we need them and we block out down the stretch.”
Sullivan led 4-2 early when Marshall went on an 8-0 run to go up 10-4. Marshall held onto the lead throughout the first half and went into halftime with a 25-19 lead.
Marshall scored the first two points of the third quarter when Sullivan started to force some turnovers and scored eight points of those giveaways. Haley Rose and Elizabeth Green, who finished with 11 points, hit a three-pointer each and Miller tied the game at 27 with a layup.
Later with the game tied at 29, Emily White, a freshman, hit a three-pointer to give Sullivan its first lead since the 6:24 mark of the first quarter. White hit another three right before the end of the quarter for a 35-31 lead.
White hit four three-pointers in the game and finished with 12 points.
“She’s been doing it all year for us and it’s been key moments like that,” McCain said. “That’s huge for a freshman coming in. She’s got that mentality where she isn’t afraid. That’s helped us down the stretch when we needed a little lift scoring and she goes out and hits some huge ones for us.”
Marshall cut the lead to 37-36 with 4:21 left when Sullivan went on a 6-0 run to stretch the lead out a bit.
Marshall cut it to 44-41 with 4 seconds left when Rose made a free throw to seal the 45-41 win for Sullivan.
“Haley’s free throw was huge for us,” McCain said. “She needed that. I just want the girls to enjoy this and soak it all in. It’s great for the community and I love seeing the support we had from our staff and from all of the community and the student section. I am just proud of these girls.”