Newburg defeated Steelville 51-42 to take home the tournament crown.
When the Newburg girls basketball team (17-4) hosted Steelville for the championship of their home tournament on Saturday, Feb. 4, there seemed like there was an easy script to follow. The Lady Wolves were coming off of two blowout wins in their first two wins and this senior heavy team was poised to win the tournament for the second straight season. While they ended up pulling out a 51-42 win, it didn't follow that script in the process in large part due to the fact that Homecoming was the night before.
"Well last night we had Homecoming and they all decided to stay all night together," said head coach Steve Guffey. "After the first quarter I said 'how many of you went to bed before one?' Nobody raised their hand. I said two, nobody raised their hand, three, a couple of them raised their hand, four and I just quit. So we were pretty lethargic, we were slow, you could see it on their faces, but it's hard to get on to them because their kids and they want to have fun with their friends after that, it's their senior year. As a coach, I was really frustrated because I knew what they were capable of doing."
That lack of sleep certainly showed early. Newburg didn't make a shot from the field in the first quarter of play and looked sluggish on the defensive end. The Lady Wolves didn't score until a free throw by Kylee Brookshire with 4:35 left in the quarter, but Steelville hadn't done much on the offensive end to bury them and Newburg only trailed 6-1. Newburg played a man-to-man defense in the first quarter and their tired bodies couldn't keep up with Steelville. The Lady Cardinals eventually stretched their lead out to seven in their quarter, but a string of Steelville fouls let Newburg back into the game. The Lady Wolves made seven free throws in the opening quarter to keep things somewhat close at 13-7 by the end of the first quarter.
"Yeah, it was pretty boring, wasn't it," asked Guffey of the first quarter. "I yelled at them one time I said, 'if you wanna stand and watch this ballgame, I could've bought you a ticket." They were lethargic, they were just not themselves. They just stood there and they were behind."
Coach Guffey was able to get through to them a bit in the second, but what helped them the most was a change in their defensive gameplan. For the rest of the game Newburg either played a straight zone or a triangle and two, which helped them tighten up their defense tremendously. Instead of chasing Steelville like they did in the first quarter, they were able to shift around in their zone and cover more ground as a unit. That helped the Lady Wolves get back into the game in the second. Newburg finally got their first field goal of the game early in the quarter when Alexis Stevenson grabbed an offensive rebound and hit a layup to bring Newburg within four. After a Steelville basket, Riley Guffey sank a three and hit a pair of free throws to cut the deficit to one with five minutes to play in the half. After another Steelville basket, Guffey buried another three to tie the game at 17, but Steelville responded with a three of their own by Abby Booker. Newburg was eventually able to take their first lead of the game with a three by McKayla Callahan. She then added to that lead with a steal and layup, pushing the score to 25-22. Steelville was able to cut into the lead in the final seconds when Alyssa Dondlinger was called for an over the back foul on while trying to corral a long pass. That sent Alexis Diaz to the line with 3.9 seconds left in the half. She made both free throws, which brought the score to 25-24 at the half in Newburg's favor.
Steelville came into the second half firing. Booker sank a three to open the half for the Lady Cardinals to retake the lead. That lead would end up going back and forth for the next several minutes, but Steelville was able to gain control and stretch their lead out to 34-28 with 5:20 left in the quarter on yet another three by Booker. Newburg chipped away at that lead for the next couple of minutes, cutting the deficit to one on a three-point play by Dondlinger with two and a half minutes to play. The Lady Wolves then took the lead back for good with another three-point play, this time by Brookshire, with 1:15 left in the quarter. Another free throw by Brookshire put the lead at 39-36 at the end of the third.
The fourth quarter was mostly free throws for the Lady Wolves because Steelville spent most of the game in foul trouble. Newburg was in the double bonus for the entire fourth quarter, as Steelvile had already committed 10 fouls, as the Lady Wolves took advantage. They went 6-8 from the charity stripe and added another six points from the field and eventually stretched their lead out to 10 points. It took almost three minutes for Steelville to score in the fourth and that defensive effort from Newburg helped them cap off a 51-42 win.
Guffey led the Lady Wolves offensively with 15 points and was named the tournament's MVP. But she wasn't the only Newburg player honored for her performance in the tournament. Four of Newburg's five starters were named to the All-Tournament team, as Brookshire, Callahan and Audrey Suschanke joined Guffey among those acknowledged. Brookshire was second on the team in scoring in the championship with 14 points, while Callahan chipped in 10 and Suschanke had six.
Coach Guffey appreciated how his players responded after the first quarter.
"There was no point in yelling at them (after a point), they're kids and they just wanted to have a good time (with Homecoming)," said Guffey. "I said they were gonna have to come out of it and they did. They're gamers and they wanted to win. And I think they fed off the crowd. Our crowd was great tonight and when we started to make a little bit of a run, that started to energize them."
The Lady Wolves have now won the tournament for the second straight year, which is a great accomplishment. Prior to last season, Newburg hadn't won the tournament since the 90's and now this senior core was able to cap of their high school careers in their home tournament with back-to-back wins.
"Well, they're not going to realize (how important winning back-to-back years is) until they leave or they're going to realize it tomorrow or they're going to realize it some other time," said coach Guffey. "For me it's very special because that's more why I wanted to win. It's not the record or whatever, I wanted to win because of the stories that they can tell their kids. That's why it's very important for me. They'll realize how special that was. And then to get four kids on the All-Tournament team, that's flattering."
Riley Guffey was also named the MVP both years, but she credits her teammates for those MVP performances.
"Last year (winning the MVP) was a big deal to me because I was only a junior and this year I was expecting Brookshire to get it because I thought she played really great this whole tournament," said the younger Guffey. "Getting it again is an honor, but I think a lot of it is that we work really well as a team. McKayla Callahan plays great defense, Audrey plays great defense and without them we aren't half the team. Without them, we couldn't get these steals, we couldn't get these open looks. Without Brookshire being a huge impact on the inside and Alyssa being on the inside and Van Pelt shooting on the outside, it just opens up new looks for everyone."
Newburg will now hope that the tournament win gives them an extra boost as they finish off their regular season. That mission to finish their season strong starts with a rematch against Steelville on the road on Monday, Feb. 6.
"It motivates you even more," said Riley Guffey. "Because it we can win a game like this, while feeling like we did so tired and stuff, we're capable of winning being fully rested and being even more prepared when we play them Monday."
Guffey - 15 pts, 4 asts; Brookshire - 14 pts, 8 rebs; Callahan - 10 pts, 4 stls; Suschanke - 6; Dondlinger - 4 pts, 7 rebs, Stevenson - 2 pts