In a season of firsts, St. Anthony was looking to cap things off with its first-trip to the sectional round of the state basketball tournament.
The Lady Bulldogs had already captured their first NTC championship and NTC tournament title earlier this season, and were looking for a regional title as well.
But first, they had to take down the Altamont Lady Indians, and it took everything St. Anthony had.
After scoring just two points in the first quarter, St. Anthony came back and made the history it was looking for, winning the Class 1A Altamont Regional 36-27 over the hosting Indians Thursday night.
It showed coach Bart Wiedman how the far the program has come.
“It makes me feel good, especially when you talk about (my) first season was 8-20,” he said. “I can put the things in place, but it’s the girls’ effort and buying in.”
Things started off slow, as Altamont raced out to a 9-0 lead late in the first quarter, extending an impressive run of defense that started in the fourth quarter the night before against Brownstown/St. Elmo.
The Bulldogs would cut the lead gradually into the second quarter, ending the half down 12-9.
While the defense wouldn’t stay at that level, Altamont coach Katie Lurkins saw her team play its best when it counted.
“The last five quarters of defense we’ve played this season are probably our best five quarters of defense we’ve played all year long,” she said. “You want them to play their best at the end of the season, and I really felt they did that.”
After St. Anthony cut the lead to one, Chandra Smith and Madison Ohnesorge drained back-to-back jumpers to push the lead back to five. Megan Nuxoll converted a three-point play on the other end for St. Anthony, drawing a foul on Renee Tillman, sending the Altamont center to the bench with four fouls.
Things changed rapidly from there, as St. Anthony closed the frame with a 15-3 run and led 26-19, and Tillman didn’t re-enter the game until late in the fourth quarter.
“After we did break down their zone, and got some scores inside and got them in foul trouble, they had to come out and play man-to-man,” Wiedman said. “We could get more movement, get screens, get people open the way we want to.”
Lurkins agreed that losing Tillman hurt, as the center keyed the quality defense on Nuxoll and Kate Richards to that point.
“Renee does such a good job in there. When she picked up her fourth, that left a big void right there in the middle,” Lurkins said. “Everyone that came in did a good job trying to help that, but Renee’s length and shot-blocking and altering ability is so huge for us, and that allowed St. Anthony to capitalize down low.”
Altamont kept fighting, chopping the lead from 26-19 to 28-26 with 2:03 left on a Macy Wendling jumper. The gas tank was empty from there, however, as St. Anthony made its free throws late to seal the game.
Nuxoll had 12, Richards scored 10 and Makayla Walsh and Lauren Wendt each scored seven points.
The Lady Bulldogs were 15-of-20 from the free-throw line, which Wiedman said was the difference.
“We shot the ball from the free-throw line tremendously,” he said. “We only shoot 57 percent from the free-throw line as a team, and I think they said we were 11-of-13 down the stretch.”
Ohnesorge had 11 points for the Indians, and Wendling had four. The season ends at 12-12 for Altamont.
St. Anthony improves to 21-8, its highest win total ever, and faces Central A&M Monday at the Cumberland Sectional. Central A&M won the Nokomis Regional, is 23-5 and ranked second in Class 1A.
That game begins at 6 p.m. Monday.
Altamont 9 3 7 8 27
St. Anthony 2 7 17 10 36
Altamont: M. Ohnesorge 11, L. Ohnesorge 3, Smith 2, Vaughn 2, Tillman 2, Wendling 4, Burns 3
St. Anthony: Wendt 7, Nuxoll 12, Richards 10, Walsh 7
Three-point shootout: Walsh (St. Anthony) 9, Burns (Altamont) 9, Pruett (Brownstown/St. Elmo) 8, M. Kimberlin (Ramsey) 8