SPRING VALLEY — It must have seemed like the longest minute for senior guard Lydia Stariha. She brought the ball over halfcourt and stood there, all alone, Ottawa Marquette accepting its’ fate, dribbling out the final 60 seconds of St. Bede’s 53-38 regional championship win.
“I just saw the clock ticking down, and I know we had it, and it was just the greatest feeling,” Stariha said. “It means a lot. It was a goal from the beginning to win it. We all put in the work; we had a lot of tough games and had to fight through injuries. It means a lot to come out here and win it.”
“Words can’t even describe it right now. I was crying on the bench. I’m so excited. I can’t put it into words,” teammate Mo Dean said.
Dean led the Lady Bruins with 17 points and nine rebounds. Stariha and Laura Sickley added 11 points each.
The win marked St. Bede’s 11th regional championship in the 30-year history of the program and sixth in 11 years. The Lady Bruins (17-15) advance to the Somonauk Sectional to face Aurora Christian at 6 p.m. Monday.
“These girls worked so hard for this. It’s been a struggle with injuries and everything else like that. These guys really deserve it; they deserve to come out on top like that,” McGunnigal said.
“I said last year, I’d give up 10 wins to win that regional. We’re about right there right now this year. This just feels so great. I know we’re a ton better than our record indicates.”
McGunnigal joked he’s never really sure whether or not what he tells his players sinks in during timeouts and halftime intermission, “especially the positive stuff I try to get out once in a while.” He found out Thursday they were all ears.
The Lady Bruins opened the third quarter on a 12-0 run and would outscore the Lady Cru 29-16 during the second half.
“He really gets us going every single time. I take everything he says, and it really gets me going,” said Dean, noting her coach told them to relax and be cool.
The Lady Bruins gained some much needed “Mo”-mentum to start the third quarter. Dean opened the third quarter with two inside hoops, the second via a drive and dish by Stariha for a 28-22 lead.
“Our guards are unbelievable,” Dean said. “A lot of our work in practice is just pushing the ball inside. With all the practice we have, it definitely opens a lot when we’re playing.”
Senior guard Whitley Funfsinn was hacked in the act of shooting a three-point attempt and swished three straight tosses from the charity stripe to make it 31-22. Stariha added a pair of free throws, and Laura Sickley converted a three-point play from the foul line to cap the 12-0 run for a 36-22 lead.
Dean made a three-point play at the end of the third quarter and scored three inside hoops early in the fourth quarter.
Stariha took care of the rest from there, toeing the free throw line sinking seven of 10 attempts to send the Lady Bruins to sectional.
“You just think of all the time you practice it. It almost becomes a habit,” she said. “Feels good to be at the free throw line because you know you’re working hard.”
McGunnigal knew it wouldn’t come easy against Marquette, their old rival from the Tri-County Conference.
“(Our girls) went out and won the ballgame. Hop doesn’t give up anything. We had to go out and win it,” he said. “We know we had to play a defensive game to control their game. That was some great free throw shooting from Lydia and Laura and Whitley when she hit the three in a row.”
The Lady Bruins never trailed in the game, tied only once at 2. They led as much as seven points (20-13) in the second quarter, but the Lady Cru closed out the half on a 9-4 run to pull within 24-22 at halftime.
Now after a regular season battling injuries and a rugged schedule just to get to the .500 mark, the Lady Bruins are eyeing an extended postseason run.
“We came into postseason with exactly a .500 record. It’s up to us to push it further,” Stariha said. “I’m really proud of my team. They’ve all worked so hard to get here. It’s just an amazing feeling.”
• Notes: St. Bede will face an 18-8 Aurora Christian team which was a 39-33 winner over Seneca at Wilmington. McGunnigal said they are a fast team and play good competition in a solid conference ... The second semifinal of the night will match Byron and the winner of Friday’s regional championship at Sterling between host Newman and Port Byron Riverdale.
Comment on this story at www.bcrnews.com.