TUSCOLA — Sullivan trailed nearly the entire first half of Monday's Illinois High School Association Class 1A sectional, trailing by as much as 8 to Edwards County, a school that had not won a girls basketball regional title until last Thursday. The game was tied for the fifth and final time at 34 when the Lady Redskins ran away for the victory with a 14-4 run to lead 52-38 midway through the fourth quarter. Sullivan went on to win 65-43 and reach the Sweet 16 for the second straight season.
The Lady Redskins, 26-3, are to play Teutopolis, a 61-36 winner over Pana, for the right to advance to the Elite Eight in the sectional championship set for 7 p.m. Thursday.
Last season Sullivan beat Marshall 45-41 in the sectional semifinals before falling to Teutopolis 56-25 at Effingham St. Anthony.
"We took care of the ball in the second half," said Sullivan coach Sheri McCain whose team had 10 turnovers in the second half with several of them being late after committing 15 in the first half. "It was a great second half. We had 18 points at halftime (trailed 23-18) and finished with 65 and that says something. These girls wanted it."
The lead changed hands eight times in the game, including seven times in the third quarter. The Lady Redskins took the lead for good on a basket by Avery Still with 2:10 left in the third. Freshman Lilly Null made, who made all nine of her free throws, sank a pair for a 38-34 lead. The Lady Lions were trying for one shot to end the quarter when Esther Miller stole the ball and took it in for a layup as time ran out in the quarter.
"The momentum was switching right there," said McCain, who just before the steal was encouraging the Sullivan crowd to make some noise. "She has been our catalyst all season. Being a senior, she knew what she needed to do. She got the steal and the rest of the team kind of followed. She put us on her back and we took it from there."
The two teams traded baskets to start the fourth when Sullivan used an 8-0 run to put the game out of reach as Null scored and Still and Miller made one of two free throws. Still scored off an assist from Null and Still's basket pushed the lead to 14.
Still tied her season-high with 19 points as did Null with 17, while Miller was also in double digits with 14 points.
Sullivan struggled from the field in the first half, going 5-of-21 (.238) from the field as Miller and Still missed some of the half due to foul trouble.
"I think in the first half they knew they were playing kind of tight," said McCain. "They knew they were kind of timid. I tip my hat to Edwards County. They have had a phenomenal season (finished 25-5). Their coach is doing a great job with them."
The Lady Lions led 18-10 scoring six unanswered points in a span of 1:29 of the second quarter. Sophomore Jenna Schnepper scored four points during the run, and post player Malia Schmittler scored two. Schmittler had a double-double for Edwards County with 16 points and 10 rebounds.
"She (Schmittler) is a phenomenal player," said McCain. "I thought the girls that came off the bench — Jerra Goad and Taylor Orris — battled her and kept us in the game when our two bigs went out." Schmittler is one of the better posts I have seen. We just did a nice job keeping her in check in the post area. Our other goal was not to give up three-pointers and we didn't give up too many."
At halftime of a turnover-marred first half (29 total turnovers), the message was simple, to get the ball down low.
"I just told them we have to get the ball down low and we cannot shoot from the outside," said McCain. "We needed to attack the basket and take it one possession at a time, and that is exactly what we did."
Sullivan helped itself at the free-throw line making 15-of-23 (.652) and finished the game at 44 percent from the field. The Lady Redskins, who trailed in the rebound category 19-13 at halftime, outrebounded the Lady Lions 15-6 in the second half.
"I knew once Avery (Still) and Esther (Miller) came back that we would have a chance to attack those offensive boards and we did that. I can't ask for anything more. We will enjoy this and prepare for Teutopolis."