SERENA – When an irresistible force meets an immovable object, the flaws in each become greatly magnified, so much that the outcome is usually decided by which best takes advantage of the other’s imperfections.
In the championship game of the Class 1A Serena Sectional on Thursday on Al Stegman Court, that was Serena.
In a battle of determined, athletic and relentless defenses – a contest in which the teams struggled to reach 60 points combined, turnovers flowed easily and no one player reached double figures in scoring – the Huskers prevailed over Newark by capitalizing on the Norsemen’s chilly shooting for a 36-24 victory and their second straight Elite Eight berth.
A short run of seven consecutive points spanning the half was enough to put Serena in control over the ice-cold Norsemen, whose 23.5% shooting (8 of 34) and 17 turnovers were enough to negate their own heady defensive effort that forced 19 Huskers miscues.
Reese Cole led all scorers with nine points, four in the fourth quarter, while Jenna Setchell added eight, Paisley Twait seven, Jaiden Mahler six and Makayla McNally six points and a huge 13 rebounds for the Huskers (27-8), who will meet St. Thomas More in the Pontiac Supersectional at 6 p.m. on Monday. The Sabers topped Mt. Pulaski 63-48 in the Lexington Sectional title game.
Newark (25-8) was led in scoring by a pair of reserves as Stephanie Snyder had seven points and Emily DiClementi had five. Its five starters totaled just 12 points, thanks in part to Serena’s tough defense.
“It’s never easy once you hit the postseason. It gets harder and harder, but it never gets old,” Serena coach Jim Jobst said. “This was a great team effort, and we needed it because no one was really hot offensively. Everybody contributed, and that got the job done.”
Serena, which had defeated the Norsemen 38-30 in Little Ten Conference Tournament championship game Jan. 20 and 31-29 at Serena 10 days later, came out slowly, turning the ball over five times in the first three minutes against the extended Newark zone.
But after a Setchell 3 put the home team on top for good to start the second period, Cole dropped in a pair of jumpers to give the Huskers a little breathing room.
“The nerves were definitely there at the beginning. We knew they were going to play aggressive and physical,” Cole said. “But once we started settling in and playing, it was like ‘Hey, we’ve been here before, we know what we’re doing and it’s going to be OK.’
“That we were balanced was what we needed to do to win this game, to work as a team and have everyone score. This is one of the best games we’ve played as a team, everyone working together.”
A Setchell free throw and a Mahler deuce off her pass ended the half, then each of them sank a shot to start the third stanza, giving the Huskers a 24-13 lead.
A basket and two free throws by Brooklyn Hatteberg pulled Newark within 26-19 later that quarter, but Serena netted the first eight points of the fourth, the last four by Cole to widen the gap to 36-19.
“When you give up just 36 points and still lose by 12, that’s crazy,” Newark coach Glenn Clausel said. “We were actually scoring well over the last third of the season, but we just went back to how we were playing the first half of the season. When we play Serena, I don’t know what it is, we can’t get free, we can’t get the shots … and we’re not a great offensive team anyway, haven’t been all season. Our defense has carried us all year long, but Serena plays excellent defense, too.
“We did implement a new offense … and we practiced and practiced taking the ball to the basket, but we get into the game and we’re happy to wing it around out on top. We’re just not aggressive offensive players. We have to figure that out.”