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Johnson: Halliday leads Coal City by example

MORRIS – As far as coach Brad Schmitt knows, Emily Halliday had the greatest game, in terms of points scored, in Coal City girls basketball history Tuesday night.

The senior scored 34 of her team’s 60 points in a six-point loss to Providence Catholic in a semifinal at the Class 3A Morris Regional.

Although Halliday is their leading scorer (and the defending Morris Daily Herald Player of the Year), she had never scored that many points in a game before. Nor, to Schmitt’s knowledge, has anyone else that has donned a Coal City uniform.

The game didn’t start terribly well for Halliday, or for Coal City. She had three early turnovers, which contributed to Providence taking a 9-2 lead.

But she scored her first points on a driving basket with 1:59 left in the first quarter and never let up, going 9-for-17 from the field, 5-for-10 from 3-point land and 11-for-14 from the foul line.

“She’s been doing that for four years,” Schmitt said of Halliday. “Whenever she faces adversity, her response to adversity is unlike what it is for a lot of people. She’s a steady kid, always composed. She knew how well she had to play if we were going to stay in that game, and she gave me everything she had and kept us in it.”

It might be argued that Halliday’s greatest game came in the final game of the program’s greatest season. The Coalers bowed out at 26-2 overall for a 92.9 winning percentage that is their highest ever, surpassing the 86.7 clip which they won in 2008-09.

In neither of those seasons did the Lady Coalers win a regional, but then they didn’t exactly get rewarded for great regular seasons by the IHSA when postseason destinations were assigned.

They were seeded second behind the host school at the 2009 McNamara Regional, and they were seeded second behind Joliet Catholic in a brutal Morris Regional this year.

Postseason success isn’t necessarily a requisite for a season to be remembered as the greatest in a program’s history, I guess. That’s probably more true for the Coalers, who have won only four regionals and have never won a sectional, than for some other programs.

“It was definitely our greatest regular season. We were fortunate enough to win four tournament championships,” Schmitt said. “Every coach will tell you they want to make the best run possible, and while we didn’t go far in the postseason, our kids fought and were ready every night. To me, this is the best team we’ve had just because of how well-rounded they were.”

Even in defeat, the Coalers showed something Tuesday. They hung right in there with a quality opponent from a private school.

In 2009, by contrast, they were defeated by 13 points by McNamara. Four of their last six seasons, in fact, have been ended by a Catholic-school opponent, and this is the first time the Coalers lost by single digits.

Providence forced 20 turnovers, which is significantly higher than the just over 11 the Coalers averaged, but Schmitt agreed when I suggested that several were due less to the Providence defense than to Coal City’s own mistakes in execution.

“I don’t think it was their pressure,” Schmitt said. “Though, obviously, their pressure is a ton, I thought we were ready for it. We did make some uncharacteristic mistakes. We did make a bad choice here or there. I think we gave them as good a battle as we could give them. The result could have been different had we gotten a ball to bounce our way here or there.”

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