CEDAR LAKE | Shannon Eden took the brunt of a swinging elbow from one of Knox’s players.
Tears welled in her eyes as she tried to stay on the court despite being thrown off her focus by a blow to her right ear.
Minutes later she was back in the game. This is the playoffs. Throughout the state there were players just like Eden who couldn’t stand to be on the bench for one second.
“I hate coming out any time,” Eden said. “I always want to get back in there and not let the team down, even if it’s just one play. I never want to let anyone down, because I’ve been in a lot of sectional games, and I don’t like to lose.”
Just like Eden, Wheeler took some hits Tuesday night, but the Bearcats couldn’t overcome 26 percent shooting and fell 40-28 to Knox in the opening game of the Class 3A Hanover Central Sectional.
The Redskins (10-10) advanced to Friday’s first semifinal to face Kankakee Valley (13-6).
The Bearcats (8-12) trailed 8-6 after a quarter but fell behind 20-12 by halftime. A three-point play by Allie Stevenson cut Knox’s lead to 24-18, but the Redskins scored nine of the next 11 points to take firm control of the game.
“I’m proud of my girls,” Wheeler coach Dustin Nelson said. “I thought they played hard. The story for us was the same story as it has been all season. We played hard, got after people, and unfortunately sometimes the ball doesn’t always go in the basket.”
The Bearcats entered the game averaging 37.4 points and allowing 38.6. Defense and toughness were the mark of this team, though 3-point shooting and overall scoring were not.
The only Knox player Wheeler couldn’t contain was Kara Howard, who had 17 points and eight rebounds. Every other Knox player was in the single digits.
“Our team’s been very scrappy, and that’s what keeps us in every game,” Eden said. “You don’t get rid of us until the end.”
Wheeler loses only one senior, forward Jessi Fogus.
Eden led Wheeler with 10 points and nine rebounds.
Ilivia Horsfall, one of a bevy of promising freshmen for the Bearcats, scored eight. Wheeler’s eighth grade team won the Greater South Shore Conference last season, and as many as three of those players were on the floor for quality, meaningful minutes Tuesday. The youngsters making the leap were a sign of a bright future for Wheeler.
“It’s a fun group,” Nelson said. "They play hard, and what they sometimes lack in skill they make up for in heart. I tap-danced to practice this year, because I enjoyed it every day."