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SJO ladies play for regional title after defeating Tuscola

The competition was so close that coaches and fans were exhausted from a full quarter of breath-holding, heart-racing action on Tuesday at St. Joseph-Ogden High School. It wasn't the prettiest victory, but the Spartans got'r done beating Tuscola 34-32 in their regional semifinal game.

SJO players (left to right) Alyssa Hamilton, Payton Jacob, Taylor Wells, Ashlyn Lannert and Atleigh Hamilton celebrate the Spartans semifinal win over Tuscola after the buzzer. (Photo: PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks)

Allowing their opponents nine unanswered points in the third quarter, the St. Joseph-Ogden girls basketball team, and through no lack of shooting opportunities, was unable to hit a shot from anywhere on the court. The nearly scoreless effort in the quarter was saved by way of a solo basket from senior Taylor Barnes.

The Warriors, led by junior Brynn Tabeling's nine points, took the lead on the scoreboard and posed a bona fide threat in booting SJO from the postseason entering into final period of play. Tabeling went on to finish her last game of the season with 11 points.

A three-pointer from Ella Armstrong plus six bench points from Hannah Dukeman and another field goal from Barnes (four points) was just enough work in the fourth quarter to advance the Spartans into tonight's regional title game.

"We lost our composure for a little bit," said head coach Kevin Taylor after leading this team to their 19th win of the season. "We were able to regain it. We had some lapses but overall our help defense was really good tonight."

The key defensive moment was a tip from Payton Vallee.

With less than a minute to play and down by two, Tuscola moved the ball down the floor and tried to lob a pass over her head to Marissa Russo (8 points). Vallee leapt as high as she could knocking the ball away.

Russo would have likely knotted the score had she got the needed touch.

"They were hitting her on lobs a lot," Vallee said. "When I saw the other player look like she was going to lob it, I knew I had to make the best effort to jump up and get it."

On offense, St. Joseph-Ogden was led by a game-high 15 points from Ella Armstrong.

"Ella hits the big shots at the right time. It was really good to see," Taylor said about the sophomore starter. "She did exactly what she was suppose to do tonight."

Armstrong, who also a part of SJO's aggressive defensive effort, was credited three treys and drilled both of her free throws to account for nearly half of her team's score.

"My teammates set me good screens," she said. "I relied on them to help me a lot. Tuscola definitely did play good defense on me."

Tonight will be the last time the St. Joseph-Ogden girls will play on their home court until next November. The Spartans look to beat Villa Grove, who canceled Schlarman Academy's season after a 57-49, a second time this season. The Blue Devils will come in ready to avenge their early season, three-point loss to SJO at the GCMS-Fisher Tipoff in November.

Game time is set for 7pm.

Box Score
St. Joseph-Ogden 9 12 2 11 - 34
Tuscola 10 6 11 5 - 32

St. Joseph-Ogden: Hannah Dukeman 7, Payton Jacob 2, Taylor Wells 2, Atleigh Hamilton 4, Taylor Barnes 4 and Ella Armstron 15.

Tuscola: Brynn Tabeling 11, Hope Dietrich 3, Laney Cummings 2, Abbey Jacob 6, Sophie Kremitzki 2 and Marissa Russo 8.