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Dominant defensive start gets Coal City to I-8 championship

BRAIDWOOD – From the first quarter on, Seneca more or less kept pace with undefeated and top-seeded Coal City on Monday at the Interstate Eight Conference varsity girls basketball tournament at Reed-Custer High School.

The Irish did not, however, keep pace in the first quarter, when they committed 10 turnovers and scored only three points. Coal City went on to win, 43-28, and advanced to Thursday’s championship, which will also be played at Reed-Custer.

The two teams had not played yet this season, though the Coalers did watch Seneca’s 47-38 quarterfinal win against Plano on Saturday before their own game against Manteno, which they won 61-30.

“When we watched them the first night, they played kind of slow against Plano,” Coal City post Britta Spelde said. “So, before the game, we talked about pushing and just running up and down the court as fast as we could and beat them like that.”

Coal City’s Brittany Jezik took 15 seconds to give the Coalers (20-0) the lead for good with a steal and a fast-break basket. Seneca’s first four possessions all resulted in turnovers.

“You can look at them, you can do all the things you wanna do in practice,” Seneca coach Barb Beck said, “but until you’re actually out there with their foot speed and the defensive pressure in your face, you don’t realize ... you know they’re good, but you don’t know how good they are.”

After an Anna Baker three-point play got Seneca (18-4) on the board at the 4:34 mark of the first quarter and made it a 4-3 game, the Coalers scored 10 unanswered points, with Emily Halliday and Spelde scoring four each. Seneca did not score again until Baker made two free throws 1:22 into the second quarter.

“I liked that we tried to pressure as best as possible,” Coal City coach Brad Schmitt said. “We tried to disrupt what they wanna do, and we tried to be the most physical team on the floor.”

Behind baskets from Rylee Anderson, Mallory Misener and Danielle Hauch, Seneca got within nine at halftime. The margin stayed roughly the same until Coal City’s Nicole Borgetti hit a 3-pointer from the corner at the 6:32 mark of the fourth quarter, which sparked a 9-2 Coal City run.

Seneca had one more turnover in the final three quarters than it had in the first, and behind Baker’s 11 rebounds, it had a 30-22 edge on the boards.

“I told my kids, I thought they left it on the court today,” Beck said. “You get a couple breaks here and there, and make some adjustments, and we still got another shot at them. I can’t fault the effort, and I told them exactly that.”

Halliday scored 14 points and added five rebounds and five steals to own at least a share of the team lead in all three categories.

Spelde had 10 points, five rebounds and three assists, and Borgetti added eight points.

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