Against odds, Raiders collect crown

Photos by Carolyn Van Houten/The Herald
Southridge’s Taylor Neukam, left, and Paxton Combs cheered as teammate Aubrey Main sank the game-winning free throw with 0.9 seconds to play against Washington in Saturday’s Class 3A sectional semifinals at Vincennes Lincoln. The Raiders won 41-40 and downed Lincoln 46-41 later in the day to earn the program’s ninth sectional title. For a gallery of photos, click here.

Herald Sports Writer

VINCENNES — You’re too young. You’re not going to get anywhere.

Aubrey Main heard it from day one, as did many more of her Southridge teammates.

The details have been documented: a lineup of four sophomores and Main, a junior, the eldest starter. The departure of two Division II players and 86 percent of the point production from the previous season.

The word — though certainly not uttered within the team — was “rebuild.”

Three months after her team accepted a 25-point loss in its season opener, Main now stood inside the midcourt circle at Alice Arena, her teammates scattered amongst the mob that had descended upon the hardwood. A ladder rested underneath the basket to Main’s back.

With the sectional trophy meandering from one Raider’s hands to another’s after Southridge willed its way past Vincennes Lincoln 46-41 in Saturday night’s Class 3A sectional championship, Main offered an admittance.

She did listen to the reasons given for why the Raiders couldn’t succeed. So did her teammates. And that made all the difference.

“We actually let that make us work harder,” Main said. “We just felt like we had to prove our point. And you can tell, we did.”

All in: That’s what mattered most, Raider coach Greg Werner explained. A gifted group, no doubt. But when circling the difference-maker, you delve into its psyche.

“The kids have bought in. And in order to believe, you have to be fully bought-in,” Werner said. “It’s from the water girl through the coaches through the players, caring about one another, trusting one another and most importantly, believing in one another. It’s been the biggest blessing for me as a coach is that these kids have bought in.”

Against the Alices (11-12), much like in the Raiders’ semifinal comeback against No. 9 Washington in Saturday afternoon’s semifinal, no moment typified the commitment quite like Southridge’s second-half surge.

Aubrey Main worked past Mackenzie Small, left, and another Vincennes Lincoln defender for a shot in the championship. Main scored 14 points in both the championship and semifinal victories and grabbed 10 rebounds in the final.

After being forced to the bench with foul trouble for three minutes of the opening quarter plus the entire second period, guard Kadie Dearing jump-started the surge for Southridge (16-5). The sophomore tallied seven points in the third quarter, including five of Southridge’s first seven points following the intermission.

Less than 30 seconds into the second half, Dearing corralled a Lincoln miss and jetted for a coast-to-coast layup. For Dearing, who also constructed a personal 10-0 run against the Hatchets (17-4) in the third quarter of the semifinals after wrestling with first-half foul issues, her impact upon re-entry stemmed from her preparation on the sideline.

“My mindset is to cheer on my team the best that I know how and to stay mentally into the game, because I know physically I’m going to get in there and I’m going to get my first wind,” Dearing said, her voice all but gone. “But mentally, I’ve got to be there all the time. So when I come back in, I’m ready to show my teammates that I’m ready to play.”

Though entering the final quarter leading 33-27 after outscoring the Alices 15-10 in the third, Southridge slipped behind 34-33 after Lincoln’s Haleigh Hipsher buried a 3-pointer from the left corner with 6:11 to play.

From there, it was an effort by all that brought the Raiders home.

First, a 10-foot jumper by Main off one of Kayla Voegerl’s team-high four assists with 4:41 remaining. On Southridge’s next possession, Taylor Neukam took a feed from Dearing and drained a 16-foot baseline jumper — her only field goal attempt of the game.

Hesitant? Hardly.

“I just wanted to come out and contribute a little more than I had in the first half, since I didn’t have any (points) in the first half,” Neukam said. “I was ready to win. I knew everybody else was.”

Voegerl’s final field goal of her 21-point effort awarded the Raiders a 39-38 advantage with 2:23 to play, and on Southridge’s ensuing possession, Raider center Sydney Altmeyer snatched one of her nine rebounds and deposited a putback.

As Southridge created its opportunities, it also inhibited Lincoln from doing the same.

The Raiders outrebounded the Alices 37-21, with Main posting 10 boards (six offensive) to go with 14 points and Altmeyer claiming seven defensive rebounds to set the tone in a game where Lincoln earned just four second-chance opportunities.

Determination on the glass, like most everything else, was communal.

“We were just trying to give it everything,” Altmeyer said. “Even if we didn’t win it, we wanted to be able to look each other in the eye and say we gave it everything we’ve got.”

The care for their teammates also manifested itself in the Raiders’ prudence with the ball when it mattered most. In Saturday’s two games, the Raiders committed 17 first-half turnovers. In the second half, they turned the ball over just four times, and just once in the final 16 minutes of the final.

Fittingly, Main delivered Southridge’s final two points on free throws with 2.7 seconds remaining. In the semifinal win over Washington, Main sank a free throw with 0.9 seconds remaining to push the Raiders ahead 41-40. Yet with her team already ahead by three points in the championship, hitting a pair from the line wasn’t quite as knee-buckling.

“I knew if I was going to be on that line again, I was going to be shaking,” joked Main, who connected on 6-of-7 foul shots in the final. “But it was a lot easier.”

After trailing with less than two minutes to play against Washington and with less than three minutes remaining against Lincoln, the Raiders found the finishing gear both times. And when Paxton Combs, Southridge’s lone senior, corralled the Alices’ final desperation heave as time expired, the Raiders reveled in a championship few foresaw.

“Coach, at the beginning of the year, said that we were probably one of the youngest teams in the state,” Voegerl said, “but that shouldn’t stop us at all in pursuing our dreams.”

As he sat on a baseline bleacher with the remains of a net draped around his neck, Werner reiterated the thought while continuing to broaden it. The Raiders will relish in the victory, he assured, but just as it’s been all season, the group’s vision and belief extend further than what others expect.

“What a dream we’ve had,” said Werner, whose squad will battle No. 7 Madison (16-2) at 10:30 a.m. Saturday in the regional semifinals at Jasper.

“We’re going to go to compete and find out where we need to be to win a state title. This isn’t about just cutting down the nets. This is about getting a ring. … And that’s why this sectional is so important: give them something to want more. Cutting down these nets, I hope they want more. And that’s what we’re going to go for.”

Contact Joe Jasinski

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