NORMAL | Playing with the grace of a dancer and the poise of a senior, Champaign St. Thomas More High School freshman Tori McCoy got oodles of support from her teammates while overpowering El Paso-Gridley, 62-48, in the Class 2A state tournament semifinals at Redbird Arena on Friday.
The 6-foot-4 McCoy finished with 24 points on 10-of-12 shooting from the field and 4-of-6 free throw accuracy. She also had 14 rebounds and three blocks. Teammate Lexi Wallen added 20 points.
“They have everything you need to be in a state championship game,” EPG coach Kyle Bobbitt said. “They have dominant post play. They have slashers. They have shooters outside.
“Tori doesn’t play like a freshman. She is a very good player, one of the best in the nation. She showed why. Our tallest player is 5-10. We had someone 5-6 guarding her. We wanted to shove her up under the basket, but she played a lot stronger than what I’ve seen.”
The No. 1-ranked Sabers (32-2) will face No. 4 Nashville (32-2) in today’s 8:15 p.m. title game. No. 5 EPG (29-2) will take on unranked Walther Lutheran (26-7) in the 6:30 p.m. third-place game.
“That was a hard-fought battle,” St. Thomas More coach Chris Mennig said. “Our kids’ defensive energy, they even surprised me a little bit, especially in that second quarter.”
The Titans, who saw a 17-game winning streak come to an end, received 14 points from Codee Schlipf and 11 from Jenna Souhrada. Rebekah Ehresman added nine points, eight rebounds, four steals and two assists.
Ehresman was guarded by Randa Harshbarger, a first-team all-stater as is McCoy.
“It was hard to get around her,” said Ehresman, who came in averaging 16.5 points. “I haven’t been too used to that. She stuck with me the whole game. I could hardly do anything. It took me out of my game a little bit.”
EPG, which was making its state tournament debut, finished the game on a 24-10 run that electrified its throng of followers.
“You saw from the third quarter to the end of the game what our girls can do,” Bobbitt said.
St. Thomas More stepped to a 15-7 lead before a three-point play by Schlipf sparked a 7-0 Titan run. A McCoy free throw and her rebound basket at the buzzer gave St. Thomas More an 18-14 lead after one quarter.
After an Ehresman 5-foot jumper made it 20-16 and accounted for all of EPG’s second-quarter scoring, the Sabers went on a 15-0 run that featured points from six players and seven Titan turnovers.
“In the second quarter, we kind of got into a funk,” Bobbitt said.
St. Thomas More’s 35-16 halftime lead included eight points on putbacks, seven on fast breaks, nine off turnovers and 13 from the towering McCoy.
“We are just scratching the surface of her ability,” Mennig said.
The Sabers didn’t let up in the third quarter, injecting an 8-0 surge to the first media timeout to lead 43-16. EPG was in a 30-point hole by the time it ended a 12:07 scoring drought with a 3-pointer by Schlipf, who called St. Thomas More the toughest team she has faced in her career.
After a transition basket by Mattie Buchanan pulled EPG within 46-21, McCoy had one of her most spectacular sequences. It began with a block, which she gathered and then sprinted for a layup. She had 22 points by the time the Sabers took a 52-26 lead into the final period.
McCoy and Harshbarger sat out the fourth quarter until Souhrada’s layup brought EPG within 54-39 with 3:38 left.
“We forced them to bring them back in and McCoy gets right into the paint again (to score),” said Bobbitt, whose team was outscored in the paint, 40-20.
Nashville 50, Walther Lutheran 29: Nashville limited Walther Lutheran to 18.2 percent field goal shooting (10 of 55) while holding its 24th opponent of the year under 30 points. Shaye Harre led the Hornettes with 19 points, and Shawn Rennegarbe added 10.
Walther Lutheran, which trailed 23-12 at halftime, received 16 points from Dana Turner and 11 rebounds from Isimeme Ededo.
This is the first time in Nashville coach Wayne Harre’s eight state trips since 2001 that he will be playing for a title. The best finish in Hornette history was second in 1990.