1A girls basketball: Altamont puts the brakes on St. Bede’s season

Grace Nelson scores 39 points, lead Indians to a 64-56 win over Bruins in 1A third-place game

St. Bede's Ali Bosnich hugs teammate Ashlyn Ehm as they walk off of the floor after loosing to Altamont 64-56 in the Class 1A third-place game on Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024 at CEFCU Arena in Normal.

NORMAL - The St. Bede girls basketball team has been all gas and no brakes this season.

The Bruins rode that team motto all the way to their first state tournament appearance before the ride came to a stop.

The Bruins, who fell to defending state champ Okawville in the Class 1A semifinals, ran into a hot-shooting Grace Nelson of Altamont, who scored 39 points to lead her team to a 64-56 victory over St. Bede in the third-place game Thursday night at Illinois State University’s CEFCU Arena.

It was a memorable season for the Bruins (19-9) in many ways.

“Bringing home a trophy means a lot,” St. Bede coach Stephanie Mickley said. “Two years ago we saw something special in them. They had to get used to the coaches and what we wanted to teach them and they just grew from there. They have a saying that’s called ‘all gas no brakes, let’s fly.’ They really took that to heart and they took off this year and they didn’t look back.

“They’re a very disciplined team. They’re connected. They listen to the coaches. The coaches are connected. So it was really kind of a perfect storm to have these girls excel the way they have. They’re good role models to the younger girls. We really wanted to bring girls basketball back on the map in the Illinois Valley.”

St. Bede's Bailey Engels grabs a loose ball over Altamont's Peyton Osteen during the Class 1A third-place game on Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024 at CEFCU Arena in Normal.

St. Bede seniors Ali Bosnich (21) and Ella Hermes (16), who combined for 37 points in their final game, said it was the perfect way to go out.

“I’m just happy that we got this far and we’ve had such success over the season. I can’t be mad now because it’s gone so well and I’ve got to like spend this time with my friends,” Hermes said.

“It’s been a pleasure working with coach and giving her a second season and seeing the success that she brought us that she promised us that she saw in us. And yeah, as usual she’s always right,” Bosnich said.

Nelson showcased her talents where she will be playing for the Illinois State Redbirds next season. She made 12 of 22 shot attempts with two 3-pointers and 13 of 15 free throws, falling just one point shy of the Class 1A State Tournament record of 40 set by Hardin Calhoun’s Grace Baalman in the 2017 third-place game.

“I just play my game and let it work for itself. I don’t care how much I scored. I didn’t even know what the record was,” said Nelson, the second vote-getter in the Illinois Media All-State Team.

“She’s a very strong player. It’s very hard to guard the Euro step,” Mickley said. “And the girls we put on her, Ashlyn (Ehm) and Lily (Bosnich) did a phenomenal job. You can’t ask for much more when they’re giving us over 100% and she’s still scoring. It’s just she’s very good ball player.”

Ehm drew a similar assignment guarding Nelson that she did in the semifinal game against Okawville’s Alayna Kraus in a 44-30 loss.

“She was a lot more patient with the ball than (Kraus) and was harder to guard (in some ways), but it was also easier (in some ways),” she said.

Nelson sank six straight free throws and added a 3-pointer from the top of the key to shoot the Indians to a 49-39 lead with two minutes to go in the third quarter.

Altamont's Peyton Osteen takes the ball away from St. Bede's Lili Bosnich during the Class 1A third-place game on Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024 at CEFCU Arena in Normal.

But the Bruins didn’t go down without a fight.

Ehm scored the first six points of the fourth quarter with two baskets and two free throws to draw the Bruins within 51-47 with under 6 1/2 minutes left.

A basket and two free throws by Ali Bosnich drew the Bruins within 54-51 with 4:49 left.

That’s when the Bruins’ gas finally ran out with the Indians scoring seven straight to regain a 10-point lead at 61-51 and outscoring the Bruins 10-5 down the stretch.

“The game shifted a little bit and we couldn’t get it back, but in my eyes I think they did everything they could,” Mickley said. “Everything we’ve been teaching all year. Hit the outside shot when it’s open, pound it inside when it’s there. I think they did it all tonight. We just came up a little short.”

Altamont coach Craig Carr said it was a good way for his team to end the season.

“We’re one of two 1A teams to get end the season with a victory and that’s what these kids deserve,” he said.

The Bruins who will be returning next want to set their sights on making it back to state.

“Now we know we can make it,” St. Bede sophomore Lili McClain said. “We’re obviously losing our two best players, but that means more people will just be able to step up next year and fill their role and then we’ll just do it again.”

“Winning fourth place is going to give us a lot of confidence and excitement for next season,” said Ehm, who contributed nine points.

Nelson had 19 points in the first half, but it still wasn’t enough to give the Indians the lead.

She scored three straight baskets to give Altamont a 15-12 with under two minutes in the first quarter.

The Bruins answered with an 8-2 run to close out the quarter for a three-point lead. Lily Bosnich hit a 12-foot jump shot to put the Bruins ahead at 16-15 at the 1:10 mark and scored again on a pass from Hermes. Ali Bosnich scored in the post to close out the first quarter for a 20-17 lead.

Hermes opened the second quarter with a 3-pointer and Ehm scored inside to give the Bruins their biggest lead (8) of the night at 25-17. Ali Bosnich hit 1 of 2 free throws and Savannah Bray sank a pair for a 30-24 lead.

Nelson cashed in two free throws and Peyton Osteen hit a 3-pointer to draw Altamont within 30-29 at the half.

St. Bede's Ella Hermes runs toward the hoop past Altamont's Libby Reardon and teammate Kylie Osteen during the Class 1A third-place game on Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024 at CEFCU Arena in Normal.