By Brent Huelsmann
After defeating Sparta 46-31 for the third time this season in the Regional Semi-Finals, the Nashville Hornettes girls basketball team captured their seventeenth regional title in the last eighteen years with a thrilling 42-40 victory over the Greenville Lady Comets. The Hornettes play in the Johnston City Sectional. Nashville’s record is currently 24-6.
In their first game of the IHSA Class 2A Sparta Regional, the Hornettes met a familiar foe in Southern Illinois River to River Conference rival Sparta. It was the third matchup between the two teams this season, with the Hornettes winning the first two by a combined 46 points.
The Hornettes led wire to wire, and rushed out to a 13-2 lead before Sparta came rushing back. The Lady Bulldogs would end the first quarter on a 6-0 run to cut the Hornettes advantage to 13-8 at the end of the first. In the second, the Lady Bulldogs could not slow down the three-point shooting of the Hornettes as Nashville hit three from behind the arc in the frame. Paige Kasten hit two, while Libby Ahlers hit one. Overall the Hornettes had six three-point baskets in the first half, and held a 28-18 lead at the break.
After halftime Sparta would get as close as 7 but could not make any more headway, as the Hornettes made key free throws down the stretch. In the fourth, the Hornettes made nine of their ten free throws, with Ahlers making all six of her attempts. The Hornettes would win the game 46-31.
Overall the Hornets made 14 of 16 free throws in the game, a fact that Coach Doug Althoff was proud of. “That’s postseason right there. When you get to the free throw line you have to make them. We’ve been struggling a little bit but we’ve been practicing really hard in practice to get better. That wins you the games. Somewhere down the line you’re going to run into a situation where you have to make them, and it’s going to be whether you win or lose the game.”
Ahlers led Nashville with 15 points in the win for Nashville. Kasten added nine points, all of which came on three point baskets in the first half. Rachael Kell added seven points followed by Janie Holle with six points. Karly Stanowski scored five points in the win, and Sabrina Kollbaum finished with four points.
The win over Sparta clinched a berth in the Regional Championship game against Greenville. The Hornettes were looking to start a new streak after losing the Regional Championship to Mater Dei last season. The Hornettes won 16 straight Regional Championships from 1999-2015.
The Hornettes again got off to a fast start, as Nashville jumped out to a 11-3 lead early. But a quick 4-0 run from Greenville cut the Nashville lead to 11-7 after one quarter of play. In the second, the Hornettes opened up a nine point lead, but Greenville cut it two three points late. As time wound down in the half, Kollbaum was able to bank in a three to give the Hornettes a 23-17 lead and a little more breathing room at halftime.
After the break the Hornettes quickly extended their lead over Greenville to 31-17 behind six points from Holle. Down by 14, Greenville would not fold. The Lady Comets would end the quarter on a 12-0 run to cut Nashville’s lead to just two points with one quarter left to play.
The Hornettes got a big boost as the fourth quarter began as Kell knocked down a three to push the Hornettes lead back to five points. The game would come down to the wire as the Lady Comets got a three from Nancy Fritzsche to tie the game at 40 with just 13.4 seconds left to play. The Hornettes would have one more opportunity as they brought the ball up the court. With 6.5 seconds remaining, Holle, the lone senior on the team, knocked down a shot to give the Hornettes a two point lead. A half court heave from Greenville fell short at the buzzer, and gave Nashville the 42-40 win.
After the game, Althoff talked about winning. “This time a year as long as we’ve got one more point than they do, that is all that matters. It doesn’t really matter how you get there as long as you get there.”
After making the game-winning shot, Holle talked about winning the Regional. “Being a senior, it’s emotional. Because you never know when it will end and you always have to step up for your team, and be the best you that you can, and help everyone else to play their hardest and keep them up.”
Holle led all scorers in the win with 18 points, 12 of which came after halftime. Stanowski added nine points and nine rebounds in the game, while Kasten scored five points. Ahlers chipped in four points, and both Kell and Kollbaum scored three points.
By Brent Huelsmann