Spartans advance after downing Villa Grove-Heritage in regional title game

Up by one with four seconds left in the first quarter after Villa Grove-Heritage's Vanessa Wright scored at the other end of the court, senior Katie Cramer took the ball into the north corner and lined up a shot three feet from in front of the Maroon Platoon's headquarters. She pulled the trigger just as the buzzer sounded hitting nothing but net to extend St. Joseph-Ogden's fragile, early game lead to four at 11-7.

Fragile indeed.

Despite building a seven-point advantage, the largest lead by either team in the first half of the game, the Spartans toiled on repeating a nearly identical third quarter encore of Tuesday night's semifinal against Tuscola to win 50-34.

SJO celebrates regional title
Seniors Katie Cramer, Hannah Dukeman, Anna Wentzloff and Taylor Barnes take possession of the team's IHSA plaque. The win over Villa Grove-Heritage marked the third consecutive regional championship title for the Spartans. (Photo: PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks)

"This time of the year no one is going to give up. No one is going to stop playing hard," said St. Joseph-Ogden head coach Kevin Taylor in regards to yet another underwhelming third quarter that allowed the Blue Devils to tie up the score at 25-all. "I knew they would come back at us. I knew the game was not over."

VGH head coach Dan Sappenfield called a time out with 3:52 left in the third. After play resumed Aliya Holloman found herself at the free throw line where she sank two shots to tie the score up at 25-all.

Shortly thereafter, Taylor Wells drew a foul call and drilled the first shot before missing her second to give the Spartans a one point lead that would not last for long.

The Blue Devils immediately responded with a lay up from Samantha Campbell after inbound pass to go up 27-26. It would be the last time VGH would see numbers on their side of the scoreboard great of the two.

Right after Atleigh Hamilton hit the second of her two free throws, Taylor called a time out with fans from both sides looking a pair of 27's on the scoreboard.

"That seems to be a pattern for us," said Katie Cramer. The senior, who now has three regional titles to her credit, led the SJO's offensive effort with 12 points. "We like to come out after halftime kind of flat. But, we picked it up and I wasn't worried once we picked up our energy."

After the 30 second break, an energized, highly physical Spartan squad took command of the floor out scoring VGH 18-7. Abby Behrens led final quarter effort to help the Spartans put the game out of reach with six points, four from her six attempts from the charity stripe.

Behrens along with Ella Armstrong tallied nine points each in the championship victory and SJO 20th win of the season.

"In the third quarter, sometimes, we kind of collapse in on ourselves and we have to dig ourselves out of a hole," said Behrens, who was happy to secure the win on her home court. "I thought we did well recovering."

Peaking at what seems to be the right time, Taylor was happy to see his team play an aggressive, more tenacious brand of basketball.

"They played smart. They played tough tonight," Taylor said without hesitation about the team effort. "They played strong. As a coach I love to see that."

Except for practice, the girls team is done at home for the season.

Taylor & Co. will travel to Paris on Monday to face the winner of the Sullivan regional, a contest between sectional host Paris (#1 seed) and Sullivan (#4 seed). The sectional semifinal will tipoff at 7:30 pm.

Box Score
St. Joseph-Ogden 11 13 8 18 - 50
Villa Grove-Heritage 7 11 9 7 - 34

St. Joseph-Ogden: Payton Jacob 8, Taylor Wells 1, Atleigh Hamilton 5, Katie Cramer 12, Abby Behrens 9, Taylor Barnes 6 and Payton Vallee 9.

Villa Grove-Heritage: Jordan Ray 2, Maci Clodfelder 1, Kyleigh Block 14, Aliya Holloman 9, Vanessa Wright 2 and Samantha Campbell 6.

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