WILMINGTON – Quality teams find ways to win big ballgames even when not playing the best.
The Knights connected on only 13 of 49 shots (27%), far below their usual marksman-like performance, but they still managed to hit six key 3-pointers and defensively limited the Irish to 7 of 35 (20%) off the floor to come away with a 36-25 victory.
As a result, Fieldcrest (30-3) produced its fourth consecutive regional championship since the 2018-19 season, minus the pandemic-shortened 2020-21 season, when there were no playoffs.
All the titles have come under the guidance of coach Mitch Neally, the only regional crowns in program history.
“We’ve won four in a row now, and it kind of feels like the normal for us lately,” Neally said. “To think eight years ago when I took over the program we just wanted to win one. But all the credit goes to the girls, not me, and tonight we didn’t play our best game against a very well-coached Seneca team, but still found a way to win, and that’s all I can ask for.”
Fieldcrest – the No. 6 team in the final Associated Press Class 2A rankings – also marked its second consecutive 30-win season. Junior Kaitlyn White led the way with a game-high 15 points, including three 3-pointers. Senior Haley Carver did the same with three 3s for nine points, while classmate Ashlyn May chipped in with six points.
Seneca (22-10) finished its season after struggling in the first half, registering only one field goal. But the Irish regrouped and outscored the Knights in the second half, only to fall short in the end.
Senior Kennedy Hartwig tallied 11 points, freshman Tessa Krull posted six off the bench, and sophomore Ella Sterling added five and a contest-best nine rebounds.
“In the first half we just made one basket, and that really proved to be the difference in the game, because we played our tails off in the second half,” Seneca coach Brian Holman said. “Against a very good team like Fieldcrest, you can’t do that, and even though we cut the gap to nine midway through the fourth quarter, we couldn’t catch up and play chase.
“We played hard, contested almost everything, and I’m proud of our girls for competing so well against one of the top teams in 2A. We had a great season despite the loss.”
White came out hot, registering putbacks at 6:00 and 3:50 followed by a right-baseline 3-pointer at 2:30 to help give the Knights a 10-3 lead after one quarter.
“We were really excited for this game. We knew we had to earn another regional championship,” White said. “So I thought I needed to get off to a fast start, and I got into the flow of things early.”
The Irish received their only field goal of the first half when junior Faith Baker put back a miss at 4:20 as Seneca trailed 12-7. But May added a bucket at 3:10 followed by right-wing 3s from White at 1:05 and Carver with seven seconds to go that gave Fieldcrest a 20-7 advantage at the half.
The Irish could manage only 1-of-16 shooting from the field in the first half, with the rest of their scoring coming as a result of free throws.
Carver then bombed home her second and third 3s at 5:55 and 4:10 of the third quarter to push the Knights’ lead to 26-9, and eventually 32-19 with eight minutes left.
“The first half wasn’t the way I wanted to play even though I hit that 3 going into halftime,” Carver said. “So in the third quarter I refocused and was able to get a couple more that helped us maintain our lead, and we held on from there.”
Seneca was able to pull within nine points at 34-25 after three free throws from Hartwig midway though the final quarter. But the Irish didn’t score again, as the Knights provided a solid delay game down the stretch in order to advance to the Coal City Sectional semifinals at 6 p.m. Tuesday against Bishop McNamara (19-12).
“Credit to our girls for their hard work, and the same to our fans for being here and braving some really bad weather tonight,” Neally said. “It wasn’t a great win statistically when you look at it, but we got it done, and now we’re on to sectionals for the second year in a row.
“We can’t wait.”