Girls basketball: Looking back at St. Bede’s first supersectional game in 2000

Bruins rallied from 14-0 deficit only to drop 53-52 heartbreaker to Seneca

Members of the 1999-2000 St. Bede Lady Bruins hoist the Class 1A Sectional plaque after defeating Rockridge on Feb. 14, 2000 at Bureau Valley High School.

Things didn’t start out very well the first time the St. Bede girls basketball team reached a supersectional in 2000.

The Bruins fell behind Seneca 14-0 on the Irish’s home court, and a young St. Bede coach Tom McGunnigal was looking for answers.

“I remember turning to coach [Steve] Dinges and coach [Tom] Ptak and asking them, ‘What should I do?’” McGunnigal recalled. “Steve said, ‘I’d start by calling a timeout.’”

McGunnigal was able to steady the Bruins’ ship, and they outscored the Irish 11-8 the rest of the first quarter and 13-5 in the second to close within 27-24 at the half.

The Bruins trailed by three points (37-34) entering the fourth quarter, taking their first lead of the night with a basket by senior center Erin McGunnigal, the coach’s sister, with 6:28 left to play.

Down by one point with 17 seconds left, the Bruins missed two point-blank shots and ran out of time for a heartbreaking 53-52 loss, bowing out at 28-2.

“It was easily one of the top three games I’ve been involved in,” Tom McGunnigal said.

Members of the 1999-2000 St. Bede Lady Bruins (front from left) Ellen Rose, Karissa Dinges, MacKenzie Stouffer and Angie Tomsha; (middle row) Sarah Slevin, Lindsey Olzewski, Stacy Antkowiak, Morgan Cawley; (top row) Katie Zemann, Lanie Twanow, Kristin Racine, Erin McGunnigal, Lisa Twardowskia and head coach Tom McGunnigal. The 1999-2000 Lady Bruins finished their season with a 28-2 record. The team lost in the Supersectional to Seneca.

McGunnigal, who is now the boys coach and athletic director at Kewanee Wethersfield, said the Irish had a tremendous advantage playing at home.

“That right there [14-point deficit] was probably their crowd factor. It was definitely worth 14 points that night. It was an overflow crowd in their commons area, and they were watching it on closed captioning.

“They said there was no pre-sale tickets. I think St. Bede people got 5 maybe 10% of the tickets. But boy they made noise. The Gold Shoe Crew, the student section, they were phenomenal.”

Erin McGunnigal led the Bruins with 21 points with Sarah Slevin adding 12, Morgan Cawley 10 and Karissa Dinges seven.

Coach McGunnigal said the gym was exceptionally loud with the Seneca students right by their bench, but his experienced team did not become unhinged.

“It was hard to communicate. Fortunately, you’ve got a real experienced team, a great group of seniors that were totally connected and totally understood the game that we played. They just knew what to do,” he said.

St. Bede's Erin McGunnigal shoots a jump shot over a Seneca player during the Supersectional game on Feb. 21, 2000.

Coach McGunnigal, who was a senior member of the Bruins’ 1988 state champion baseball team, said he thinks of that night often.

“I was just incredibly young back then. It was only my second year coaching. My thinking back then was, ‘Oh, this is easy. ‘We’ll be back again. We’ll do this again,’” he said. “Just like anything else, if it were that easy, everybody would do it. That opportunity obviously doesn’t happen often.

“Success like that, a team like that is sometimes very fleeting.”

St. Bede beat Prophetstown (54-46) and then Rockridge (60-38) for the sectional championship. Erin McGunnigal and Cawley each scored 17 points, and Katie Zemann added 13 in the title game.

“This is unbelievable, incredible. It’s everything I thought it would be and more. It’s magical,” Tom McGunnigal told the Bureau County Republican’s Charlie Ellerbrock that night.

For the regional championship, on its home court, St. Bede took down Mendota 46-40.

Members of the 2000 St. Bede Lady Bruins celebrate winning the Class 1A Regional title in 2000 at St. Bede Academy.