The third was the only quarter Central A&M failed to make a 3-pointer on Wednesday, but Kayla Gibson made up for it in a heartbeat.
The Raiders' junior guard scored her only points of the game on two 3-pointers in the first three minutes of the final quarter and, in the blink of an eye, St. Anthony trailed by 19.
“Kayla Gibson is an unconscious shooter, at times,” Central A&M head coach Tom Dooley said. “She can come out, in practice, and make 15 in a row. She comes in and gives us two quick 3s. That was huge for us.”
Taylor Jordan made one of the Raiders' nine total 3-pointers in between Gibson's shots, helping the Raiders to a 9-2 start in the fourth quarter of their 49-31 sectional semifinal win.
St. Anthony worked hard to stick within 12 points of the Raiders, going into the final quarter, but missed offensive opportunities during the Raiders' hot streak.
Kate Richards missed two free throws after Gibson and Jordan made back-to-back 3s, then Morgan Gardewine turned the ball over on a traveling call, opening Gibson up for another dagger.
The Raiders outscored St. Anthony, 14-4, in the first half of the fourth quarter, taking a 20-point lead twice.
“They shot it so well, at such clutch times and that's what really good teams do,” St. Anthony head coach Bart Wiedman said. “That's not our game. We don't shoot the ball from the three well at all.”
Wiedman said the Bulldogs tried to assert their physical advantage in the paint, but the offense didn't click as well as the Raiders' did.
St. Anthony wanted to hold Central A&M to 45 points in the game, which Wiedman said would give his team a chance; however, early-and-often missed layups cost the Bulldogs a chance to compete at the end.
Dooley said the Bulldogs' height “bothered” the Raiders, but his gritty team made up the difference in rebounding and defense.
“They're physical, but we're stronger than we look,” Dooley said. “I believe rebounding is a lot like defense. It's a choice and we have some determined kids.”
Ryan Dooley finished with a game-high 15 points for the Raiders, while Mikah Maples added 11. Kate Richards finished as St. Anthony's top scorer with nine points.
The Raiders showed their offensive prowess in spurts, making at least two 3-pointers in each quarter except the third. Dooley said his team did a good job maintaining control of the game, despite playing differently.
St. Anthony played catch-up from the tip, trailing by seven after the first quarter and by 10 points at half.
The Bulldogs became more prone to Central A&M shot fakes because they had to respect the Raiders' shooting ability and because they wanted to make big plays.
“I think when you get down, you tend to gamble a little bit,” Wiedman said. “We're trying to get that quick steal and quick score to get out of that mindset of one possession at a time. When you're down to four or five minutes, there is no one possession at a time. You just need the ball and go score.”
Central A&M's victory puts them in today's Cumberland Sectional title game against Arcola, while St. Anthony's season comes to an end at 21-9.
The Bulldogs won the program's first regional championship this season, which allowed them to play against Central A&M, the second-ranked team in Class 1A.
“I'm just glad we got an opportunity to play such a quality team to see what we were really made of,” Wiedman said.
Alex McNamee can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 123, or email@example.com.
Central A&M 12 14 8 15 49
St. Anthony 5 11 6 9 31
Central A&M: Dooley 15, Jordan 6, Hennings 9, Schinzler 6, Maples 11, Damery 2
St. Anthony: Gardewine 4, Wendt 3, Nuxoll 6, Richards 9, Walsh 7, Schuette 2