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Saturday Sentinel: Foul trouble can present problems for coaches at this time of year

In the past nine days, three area girls basketball teams had pivotal players face foul trouble during the games in which they were eliminated from the state series.

In two of those instances, bold decisions were made in getting the players in question back on the floor. The one made by Morris coach Kate Carey worked out very well. With Morris leading 9-5, but with Lincoln-Way West having scored five of the past six points, Carey re-inserted leading scorer Julie Jurasits at the beginning of the second quarter, although Jurasits had two fouls.

Jurasits did pick up her third foul during the quarter, but it wasn’t until there was just 7.5 seconds left in it, and by that point virtually every coach in the universe would’ve had her back in there anyway. And Jurasits scored eight second-quarter points, which were pivotal in the Redskins maintaining a 31-22 halftime lead.

“We were trying to go offense-defense with her and Emily Burling to try and avoid her picking up that third foul. We weren’t in a position where we wanted to stop the clock in order to do so, so then when she did pick it up, we kind of negated it,” Carey said.

“Julie had an awesome game – 20 points, 17 rebounds – so of course we wanted her on the floor as much as possible. Still wanted to keep her from that third foul and get her a little breather, but she played lights-out tonight. Proud as I can be of her.”

Coal City coach Brad Schmitt was similarly aggressive with forward Britta Spelde the next night, and got very different results. What had been a 34-33 Coal City lead with 3:05 left in the third quarter had become a 43-37 deficit late in the third quarter when Spelde entered despite having four fouls.

One minute and two seconds later, Spelde went hard to the basket. She collided with a stationary Providence defender, and the call went the Celtics’ way. The result was that Coal City had to play without its best post player for the entire fourth quarter and change.

“They were on a [7-1] run while we’re without our second-leading scorer. My thought was that we can’t let that get to 12, 13 points before we get her back in,” Schmitt said. “I’ve always been somebody who, especially with my seniors, I’m gonna let them play through that more often than not.

“The fifth foul was definitely a foul. Now the fourth one, I thought that was a little more questionable, but that’s how the game goes. ... Britta plays all-out, all the time. We always say if you’ve gotta get your fifth foul, make it a charge. She’s trying to make a play, and she got caught at the wrong time.”

Another key post player, Seneca’s Anna Baker, fouled out in her team’s season-ending loss to Aurora Christian last week. Seneca coach Barb Beck didn’t face the kind of decisions Carey and Schmitt did; Baker hadn’t been in foul trouble for most of the game to that point, and I think just about every coach in the universe would’ve had her out there when, with 5:11 to play, she was called for her fifth.

That didn’t make it any easier for Beck to lose Baker, who had played splendidly, in a game that remained close to the finish.

“Losing [Baker] was huge,” Beck said, “but our kids played their rear ends off, and they had a great season. I couldn’t be more pleased with them.”

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