It took longer than they originally hoped, but the Lady Tiger basketball team (15-0) finally got to play the rescheduled championship of the Peoples Bank Holiday Classic in Sullivan on Saturday, Jan. 7. The game was originally supposed to be played on Friday, Dec. 16, but they were forced to reschedule due to winter weather. The Lady Tigers made the most of the wait, as they pounced to a 59-40 win over Warrenton.
The tournament championship came with some major bumps and bruises. Within a minute of Saturday's game, Kennedie Losing suffered a terrible leg injury as she dove for a loose ball. As of Saturday, the hope remained that it was just a dislocation in her knee, but she will certainly be forced to sit out for a while. She joins Miya Goss, who recently had ACL surgery, on the injury list.
The loss of Losing was tough for St. James to respond to early on. Her injury, combined with very aggressive Warrenton defense, caused the Lady Tigers to limp out of the gate a bit.
"We had to pull ourselves together, especially after Kennedie went down," said senior forward Kenzie Guese. "She puts her heart out there when she plays and so that just causes everyone to have to step up a little bit more."
And step up they did. After trailing 12-11 after the first quarter, St. James went off in the second quarter on both sides of the basketball. The Lady Tigers played nearly perfect defense in the second, allowing just four points. Warrenton's only field goal of the half came with just seven seconds left in the half. Their other two points came from two separate trips to the free throw line. Offensively, St. James exploded for 21 points in the second quarter, powered by the duo of Guese and Devin Fuhring. Guese was bottled up for most of the first quarter, but she pounded away inside for 11 points in the quarter. Fuhring chipped in another eight, half of which came from a perfect 4-4 performance at the charity stripe. That offensive push gave the Lady Tigers a 32-16 lead at the half, a lead they would never give up.
"These kids just continue to surprise me," said head coach Terry Wells about how well his players responded in the second quarter. "They've bought in to what we're doing so much. They accept their roles. Everything I ask them to do, they go out there and they try to do that, they don't try to do any more. We don't have kids saying they should shoot more, we don't have kids pointing fingers at one another. Right now, they're the definition of a team and if we can stay there, we'll be alright."
St. James mostly worked to maintain that lead in the second half, with Fuhring and Guese still doing the heavy lifting. Warrenton managed to match them shot for shot in the third quarter thanks to a pair of threes from Kylie Cox and another eight points from Jenny Jansen. The lead stayed at 16 points, as St. James was out in front 48-32 with a quarter to play.
The Lady Tigers controlled the third quarter, holding Warrenton to just eight points to walk away with a 59-40 win. Fuhring led the way with 30 points and was named MVP of the tournament for the second year in a row. Guese had 23 points of her own and joined Fuhring on the All-Tournament team. They were both glad to get to go three for three in tournaments this season.
"It feels really good. We had talked a little bit if we could come out here and play really well, we could have a sweep," said Fuhring. "I think it's helped boost some confidence and it's felt good."
Now St. James will look to continue their undefeated streak with a matchup with Steelville on Tuesday, Jan. 10. Fuhring thinks their last couple of games have helped them prepare for their tough conference schedule around the corner.
"We schedule these tough teams and we play these tough games to help us get better," said Fuhring. "Towards the second half of the season is when we get a lot of conference teams and that kind of stuff. So when we play these tough teams, it almost teaches us lessons and puts us in situations that will help us down the road. And I feel like it helps our mental toughness too, when we get in these games and we're down by 10 or a situation we could be in later, but now we have experience with them and learn from these tough games for down the road it can matter in like Conference in District games."
Coach Wells is proud of what his team has been able to accomplish all season and Saturday was no different.
"It feels good, especially after our tough start today. Warrenton really gets out and gets after ya and it took us a little bit to adjust to that," said coach Wells. "(Sweeping the three tournaments) is a great accomplishment for these kids. Tournaments just for some reason are a bigger deal. They're a bigger deal to the kids. It's tournament week and they get excited about it. When you throw eight teams in a hat, it's nice to be the one to come out of it."
Fuhring - 30, Guese - 23, Rinehart - 4, Riccetti - 2