PIASA – A disputed basket ended Southwestern High’s girls’ basketball season, but it failed to dispel the belief that the Piasa Birds experienced a successful run.
The statistics tell the story.
Southwestern closed at 26-3, claimed a regional championship and went unbeaten in securing the South Central Conference title. The Piasa Birds also finished second in the Jersey Tournament and the Macoupin County one.
“I saw a lot of improvement in our team,” longtime Southwestern coach Steve Wooley said. “The players matured mentally and physically and I was glad to see that.
“We played well in big games.”
The Piasa Birds gave it all they had Tuesday in a semifinal game of the Carlinville Class 2A Sectional. Riverton prevailed 54-53 on Carlie Cuffle’s rebound basket at the buzzer. Or did it come after the buzzer?
Wooley figured the shot shouldn’t have counted and that would have propelled Southwestern into Thursday’s championship game against Pleasant Plains. Instead, Riverton battled Plains for the right to go on to Monday’s Decatur Super-Sectional at Millikin University.
“I think we won the game and we worked hard to put ourselves in a position to do it,” Wooley said. “The bad part about it was that it was really clear-cut (too late) on the last shot. It’s frustrating because the kids took it pretty hard. We’re just trying to recover from it.”
The hurt should heal soon enough. Southwestern returns 15 players from its thriving season. Only Randi Hopkins, a 5-foot-3 senior guard, is graduating.
Top scorer Maddy Greeling, a 5-5 sophomore, will be back to lead the Piasa Birds. Starters Ashlyn Ringhausen, a 5-6 junior guard; Erin Laubscher, a 5-5 sophomore guard; Kelsey Rhoades, a 5-8 sophomore forward; and Karlie Green, a 5-7 sophomore forward; also are back. Peyton Heyen, a 5-7 junior; is another key player in the mix.
Greeling averaged a team-best 18 points per game and steered the Southwestern ship from a guard position. The Piasa Birds’ strength was their backcourt and it showed once they forged ahead late in games. They rarely relinquished their advantage.
“We had consistently throughout the season and I was really happy with that,” Wooley said. “We played with a lot of drive and with a lot of heart.”
The Piasa Birds overcame a 27-23 halftime deficit and nine-point Riverton lead in the second half Tuesday until the Hawks punched home the winning shot. The way Southwestern lost the game could prove to be a building block for next season.
There’s no need for motivation. It’s already there.
“I was happy the way we came back in the game,” Wooley said. “And after getting over the devastation of the way the game ended, we should be motivated to do a lot during the off season.”