As the saying goes 'defense wins championships.' When St. James hosted Steelville for the District Championship on Friday, Feb. 22, that was the case with one slight addendum: defense and Hannah Marcee wins championships.
The Lady Tigers were able to grind out a 32-27 win over Steelville and almost all of their scoring output came from Marcee. After Steelville scored the first three points, Marcee took over in the first. She scored nine straight points to put St. James out in front 9-3 early. Steelville scored the final four points of the quarter, but St. James still led 9-7 powered exclusively by Marcee's scoring.
Scoring continued to be at a premium in the second quarter, as the two teams combined to score just 10 points. Marcee continued to do the heavy lifting for St. James, as she scored four of St. James' five points in the quarter. A free throw from Savanna Riccetti with a minute and a half left in the quarter as the only St. James point not scored by Marcee in the opening half, as the Lady Tigers led 14-12 at the break.
"I just knew we had to put the ball in the basket to get the job done and I just had to kind of lift up my team to get us going offensively," said Marcee on her incredible first-half performance. "We were just working the ball around and getting me open and it started working really well. I thank my team for that and Savanna helped us really get the ball moving."
St. James opened the fourth quarter with more incredible defense. Steelville knocked down a pair of free throws to open the quarter, but they didn't score from the field until near the mid-point of the third, where they were able to take an 18-17 lead. Marcee kept her scoring pace up, scoring St. James' first three points of the quarter, but the Lady Tigers were dealt a big blow before the end of the quarter. Marcee picked up her third and fourth fouls in quick succession with two and a half minutes left to play in the quarter, so her teammates needed to find some offense as she went to the bench. After a couple of missed chances, St. James was able to take the lead on a basket from Ashlyn Rinehart, before Aly Bullock scored just before the buzzer to send the Lady Tigers into the fourth with a 21-18 lead.
The Lady Tigers put the game away in the fourth with a near-perfect defensive performance. St. James held Steelville off the board for the first seven minutes of the quarter, as they expanded their lead. Riley Whitener hit a much-needed three early in the fourth, before Bullock added a layup with 3:22 left. Marcee extended the lead out to double figures with a pair of free throws with 2:32 left, which was followed by a bucket from Mikaela Donnelly. Steelville made a late push, including a three with six seconds left, but St. James was able to hold on for a 32-27 victory.
"It's what this team is and it's what they do. They really fight for each other," said head coach Terry Wells on how his team fought to pull out the win. "Some nights they have good nights, some nights they have bad nights, but they really rally and it's just a matter of looking down that bench and finding five or six of them that have something going that night to help us."
Marcee said the determination to win was simple: they wanted to defend their home court and they wanted to win for each other.
"We just knew we needed to defend our home court and we needed to get the job done and that's what we did tonight," said Marcee. "We've been through a lot this season and just getting this done is what we needed as a team."
Marcee was the only player on either team to score in double figures, racking up a staggering 18 points in a game where the teams combined to score 59 points. Bullock added four points, while Riccetti and Whitener each chipped in with three points. Donnelly and Rinehart each scored two points in the win.
"It feels amazing! We're going to put a banner up and it's just going to feel so great," said Riccetti after the victory. "All season, this is what we've been talking about and we just wanted this so bad. It doesn't matter what our record was before this, we're 0-0 going into this and we focused on that."
While Marcee's offensive output was impressive, don't sleep on the incredible defensive performance from St. James. Steelville was only held under 30 points four times this season and two of those times were against St. James. Coach Wells knew that the key to victory was going to be great defense and he loved how his girls stepped up on that side of the court.
"We had to have it. We knew that coming in. We had to have a defensive performance that was outstanding. Not good. Outstanding," said coach Wells. "For the most part we did that."
The Lady Tigers will look to carry that momentum into their Sectional at Jefferson College in Hillsboro on Wednesday, Feb. 27. They will face off against Saxony Lutheran, who enters the game with a record of 22-7.