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.

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.

SJO 7-0 in conference play, Izard pounds 29 in Rantoul road game

While the girls' team survived a nearly awkward scare on their home court from a hungry Tuscola team in their regional opener, the St. Joseph-Ogden boys team picked up conference win number seven after defeating Rantoul on the road, 66-53.

The Spartans improve overall to 19-6 on Tuesday thanks largely to a huge scoring effort by Chance Izard.

The senior, who spend 30-1/2 minutes on the floor for SJO, dropped a magnificent 29 points behind a 52% shotmaking effort against the Eagles in the Illini Prairie matchup.

Ty Pence logged another double digit output, his fifth in SJO's last six games, to finish the evening with 14 points. Like Izard, he did not miss a shot from the free throw line. The frosh star made all four of his attempt.

Izard made all five of his shots and fellow senior Drew Coursey closed out the game with perfect free throw shooting going 2-for-2.

Under the rim, Conner Hodge and Jordan Kelly led the Spartans with five rebounds apiece.

The Eagles scoring effort was led by Kamryn Rome, who mustered 14 points as his team dropped to 2-4 in the conference and 5-19 with season coming to a quick conclusion in a few weeks.

Rantoul's Lorenz Lee added another eight points to his team's effort and Colin Wilkerson contributed another seven. Bryant Shaw led all rebounders with seven boards.

Spartans are back in action this Friday night at home to face Illinois Valley Central for senior night. It will be an oh-so-gooey, sweetheart of a deal for Izard and the other nine seniors on Valentine's Day with a win over the Grey Ghosts. The 'W' will all but guarantee outright ownership the 2020 conference title.

Tip-off for the varsity game at the high school is slated for 7pm.

Box Score

St. Joseph-Ogden: Payton Cain 5, Drew Coursey 2, Payton Grimsley 7, Chance Izard 29, Jordan Kelly 9 and Ty Pence 14.

Rantoul: Kamryn Rome 14, Marcus Lee 3, Jamari Buford 2, Ke Jaun Caradine 6, Lorenz Lee 8, Bryant Shaw 6, Deonta Space 5, Colin Wilkerson 7 and Ethan Winston 2.

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