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NORMAL, Ill. -- Walther Lutheran’s never say die attitude got the Broncos to state and allowed them to finish fourth.
While most teams would pack it in after falling 16 points behind with only four minutes to play, that is just not the Broncos’ style. Despite a valiant comeback attempt, Walther Lutheran ultimately lost a 55-46 battle for third place against El Paso-Gridley in the Class 2A finals at Illinois State University’s Redbird Arena.
“I am so proud of our seniors, the entire team really,” said Walther Lutheran coach Todd Fisher. “This was a fun game. Every coach dreams of advancing to the state finals. We have been fortunate enough to be here twice in six years. We played today the way we are supposed to play. There are a lot of these girls on the track team. Not only are they very successful track athletes, they are successful basketball players also.”
El Paso-Gridley (30-2) put the game out of reach midway through the third quarter. With 4:49 to play in the period, Arra Strong hit a three-pointer to cut the El Paso-Gridley lead to 23-22. The Titans would then post a 10-1 in the next 1:58 to take a 33-23 lead. MaShayla Kirksey scored the only Walther Lutheran (26-8) point during the run, sinking a free throw with 4:24 left in the third.
Taking a nine-point, 36-27 lead into the final stanza, the Titans quickly began expanding that margin. Limiting Walther Lutheran to only a bucket by Arra Strong and a bucket and free throw by Isimeme Edeko in the first three minuets of the fourth, the Titans found themselves with a 48-32 advantage.
But a change was in order. And that change came in the form of a defensive change.
“We are a zone team, that is not a secret,” said Fisher. “But when we need things to change, we will go man-to-man. There is no way we would play man-to-man all game, but when we do employ it when we need things to change.”
The change garnered immediate results. Dana Turner hit a three-pointer with 3:50 to play in the contest. That was followed by a free throw by Turner, another bucket by Anna Strong and yet another bucket by Turner. With 55 ticks left on the clock, Walther Lutheran trailed by seven, 49-42. The Broncos would get no closer.
“That is the quickest team we have played all season,” said El Paso-Gridley coach Kyle Bobbit. “I saw them last night against Nashville, but I also saw a video on them earlier in the year. We can play with anyone physically and these girls believed tonight. All year it was about believing.”
Isimeme Edeko led the Broncos with a double-double, finishing with 12 points and 18 rebounds. Turner finished with 11 points.
“It was overwhelming to be here,” said Edeko. “I am a little bit emotional right now. On defense, we are always looking for something. We play hard until that final buzzer. We never, ever believe we are out of any game.”