Jessica Crabtree said the state tournament atmosphere overwhelmed her team and there wasn’t anything they could do about it.
“We came (to Redbird Arena) yesterday and practiced, and it was overwhelming just to be here,” Crabtree said. “At game time, nerves are 10 times greater.”
The Comets had a different reaction to the high stakes game and 10,200-capacity arena on Illinois State’s campus. They embraced it.
“I love big gyms,” Tabbert said. “Everybody said we all felt famous being on such a big court. It felt awesome.”
Baylee Quast, who had a team-high 14 assists, said her nerves were nothing compared to what she felt Thursday during the team’s first practices at the arena.
The Comets showed they weren’t going to back down from the stage, as they looked at a slim, 9-8, lead and went on a 16-4 run to win the first set, 25-12.
Stew-Stras scored the last seven points of the set, including two kills from Tabbert and Schlechte, two blocks and a New Athens mishit.
“They’re a great team, comparable to us – a good group of girls from a small town,” Patton said. “They got in our heads a little bit and took advantage of it.”
The Yellow Jackets couldn’t defend Stew-Stras’ multi-faceted hitters, including Tabbert and Knop, although New Athens matched the Comets’ runs in the second set until the end. The lead changed hands five times on eight ties in the second set.
“The best defense we had was our blocks,” said Crabtree, whose team finished with four. “They did have excellent hitters. They were amazing.”
Stew-Stras (28-12) vs. Keith Country Day (38-3)
The Comets’ hitters will have to be at the top of their game against defending state champion Keith Country Day on Saturday and Schlechte knows it, but she knows what her players are capable of, too.