1A girls basketball: St. Bede overcomes 14-point deficit to top Serena for sectional title

Bruins win first sectional plaque in 24 years

St. Bede's Ali Bosnich hugs teammate Bailey Engles after defeating Serena in the Class 1A Sectional final game on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024 at Gardner-South Wilmington High School.

Throughout the season, St. Bede coach Stephanie Mickley has been preaching to her players that they were capable of having a special season.

Senior Ali Bosnich didn’t always believe it.

She does now.

The No. 2-seeded Bruins fell behind by 14 points against No. 1 Serena, a team playing for its third consecutive sectional title, but stormed back to win 50-48 on a putback by Bosnich with 11.1 seconds left in the Class 1A Gardner-South Wilmington Sectional championship Thursday.

“Our coach has believed in us and told us we’re going to accomplish so much, and we were like, ‘We’ll believe it when we see it,’ and we’re believing it,” Bosnich said.

With the comeback victory, the Bruins captured their first sectional title since 1999-2000 and matched the program record for wins with 28, which also came 24 years ago.

St. Bede's Ashlyn Ehm eyes the hoop over Serena's Paisley Twait during the Class 1A Sectional final game on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024 at Gardner-South Wilmington High School.

“This game was everything I expected it to be,” Mickley said. “I didn’t expect to be down by 14 points, but they battled back just like they always do. The coaches were instrumental in helping change things up to throw different looks to try to keep them off balance. The girls ultimately pulled through on their own. They did a great job, and it means everything to me because I’m so happy for them.”

St. Bede (28-7) advances to play Ida Crown (20-3) in the Harvest Christian Supersectional at 7 p.m. Monday in Elgin.

The Aces advanced with a 61-56 victory over Willows Academy in the Collins Sectional final.

“I’m just happy the season is continuing,” Bosnich said. “I wasn’t ready for it to end yet.”

The Bruins’ season appeared to be in jeopardy in the first half Thursday.

The Huskers used a press to pester St. Bede into turnovers, which the Huskers turned into points on the other end.

Serena led 18-14 after one quarter after back-to-back 3-pointers by senior guard Gwen O’Connell in the final minute.

Junior Jenna Setchell knocked down a 3 to start the second quarter for Serena, which sparked a 12-2 run that extended the lead to 30-16.

However, the Bruins managed an 8-1 run to close the half, highlighted by three buckets by Ashlyn Ehm, to close the gap to 31-24 at the break.

“We got momentum,” said Bosnich, who admitted she felt “a little defeated” down by 14. “Once we gain momentum, there’s no stopping us.”

The Bruins pulled within 31-27 early in the third on a three-point play by Ehm, but the Huskers responded with back-to-back 3s by O’Connell to go back up 10.

However, the Bruins made a defensive switch and held O’Connell without a shot the rest of the way.

“We had to go man [after O’Connell’s 3s],” Mickley said. “We switched to different zones, and they just found ways to hit, so we were forced to come out at them and really just locked down. We just had to play hard and control the boards.”

The Bruins also took care of the ball better, committing one turnover in the third quarter and four in the second half.

“Patience was our main message at halftime,” Bosnich said. “We were rushing, so once we just started to slow down and take our time and do our thing, that’s what changed the game.”

Serena's Paisley Twait looks to shoot between St. Bede defenders Ashlyn Ehm and Quinn McClain during the Class 1A Sectional final game on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024 at Gardner-South Wilmington High School.

The Huskers were forced to take off the press due to foul trouble. Seniors Paisley Twait and Makayla McNally each had four fouls midway through the third.

“[In the first half], we were pushing the ball. I think the press got them tired a little bit,” Serena coach Jim Jobst said. “Then we had to take it off because we got in foul trouble and then we kind of stopped pushing.

“They went to that three big lineup to start the second half and that was a tough matchup for us. They got an easy putback right at the beginning.”

The Bruins cut their deficit to 41-38 by the end of the third quarter and took their first lead since late in the first quarter on a Bosnich bucket that made it 45-44 with 3:23 left.

Twait, who scored 31 points in the sectional semifinal, responded with two baskets in the paint for the Huskers for a 48-45 lead before senior guard Ella Hermes buried a 3 with 1:40 left to tie the game.

Out of a timeout with 56.8 seconds left, the Bruins ran the clock down before Ehm put up a shot that missed.

Bosnich eventually came up with it and scored with 11.1 seconds left.

“It was in slow motion for me,” Bosnich said. “I think it hit off Ashlyn’s foot. I picked it up off the ground, put a dribble down, saw hands and ended up on the floor, but the basket was good.”

Serena pushed the ball across midcourt and called timeout with 5.6 seconds left, but the Huskers were forced into a bad pass and turned the ball over.

With nine-tenths of a second left, the Bruins inbounded the ball and were soon mobbed by a large student section just after the final buzzer.

“Oh my gosh, it feels so great,” Ehm said. “All of our supporters came out. Basically our whole school. It just feels so good.

“I’m so excited to be with this team and I don’t want it to be over. I’m super proud of my team.”

Ehm scored a game-high 22 points for St. Bede, while Bosnich finished with 15 points, now six away from 1,000.

O’Connell scored 14 to lead the Huskers (27-6), while Twait and McNally had 11 each.

The loss ends the stellar careers of Serena’s four seniors – Twait, McNally, O’Connell and Dani Britt – who helped the Huskers to 99 wins, two sectional titles and a fourth-place finish at state in their four years.

“They’ve meant a ton to our program,” Jobst said. “They had 99 wins in four years and one was the 14-game COVID season. They took fourth at state. They have everything to be proud of. They’ve done amazing things.”