Raiders postseason run ends against Princeton

Photos by Daniel Vasta/The Herald
Southridge's Kennedy Nalley attempts to make a basket while being blocked by Princeton's Savannah Gambrel and Reaghan Page during Friday's Class 3A girls basketball sectional game in Vincennes. The Raiders and Tigers battled closely throughout the entire game but Princeton defeated Southridge 32-25, ending the Raiders postseason run. For more photos from the game, click here.


VINCENNES — The Southridge girls basketball team couldn’t have played a better game. Coming into this year’s sectional tournament, the Raiders only had themselves and their fans to lean on in terms of chances and expectations of making an impact in the postseason.

Their regular season, despite a few close games that could have gone in their favor, didn’t play out the way that they wanted it to. But they were able to take the thrust from their final regular season win against Class 1A No. 8 Tecumseh and entered the tournament with an attitude that said “we can prove we’re better than our record.”

So with that in mind the Raiders went out and used a revitalized focus on defense to defeat the Pike Central Chargers in their opening game on Tuesday night. The plan was to rinse and repeat, along with being aggressive going to the rim, when they took on Princeton in the semifinal game. The defense was there most of the night, but the Raiders could not get those consistent shots paired with their stops to create significant separation between themselves and the Tigers. Eventually the Tigers found a few more shots and overcame the Raiders 32-25 to move onto the final round.

Raider head coach Steve Rust said the team did all that he wanted them to do defensively, and went back and forth with the Tigers (15-8) from the opening tip to the final whistle. He was proud of the way the battled all night.

“I thought they fought extremely hard,” he said. “The first time we played them we gave up 43 points, we held them to 32 today so I thought the defensive effort was really good. They didn’t quit, they just kept playing.”

Not much came easy for either team in the first half. Sophomore forward Hannah Sisk was able to start the Tigers off with their first four points before Raider sophomore guard Monica Steckler got to the free throw line to notch in Southridge’s first scores. Sisk found some room for another layup, but sophomore guard Kennedy Nalley found sophomore center Abigail Kerkhoff open under the basket for the quick layup. Nalley was also able to get to the line to bank her two points, but the Raiders (7-15) trailed the Tigers by a hair, 7-6, by the time the first quarter had wrapped up.

The second quarter wasn’t much better offensively. Junior forward Emma Sartore was the only player for the Tigers to record a field goal, the rest of their five points came from free throws courtesy of Sisk. On the flipside, senior guard Mady Neukam started to come alive for the Raiders, starting with a free throw line jumper which put Southridge up 8-7 at the start of the second. She would score six points in the quarter which, along with Nalley’s good free throw attempt, would give the Raiders a 13-12 lead at halftime.

But the Tigers would claw back. Sartore opened the third quarter with a point-blank layup and was quickly followed by a rainbow jumpshot from sophomore guard Reaghan Page to give the Tigers a 16-13 lead. An and-1 play by Sisk extended the run to 7-0 before Neukam could knock in another midrange shot to get the Raiders back on the scoreboard. Neukam landed another one to get the Raiders within two points, but another Sisk score kept the Tigers ahead 21-17.

But Neukam would not be denied, scoring the next four points for the Raiders to tie the game at 21-all with less than two minutes to play in the third quarter. Steckler was then able to hit Kerkhoff with the rhythm pass, which she laid in for the 23-21 Raider lead. But Page drew a foul on the next possession, scored, and hit her extra free throw to put the Tigers back on top 24-23. Final drive from senior guard Keona Louis gave the Tigers a three-point lead going into the fourth.

Southridge head coach Steve Rust gives senior Mady Neukam a send-off speech after Friday's Class 3A girls basketball sectional game in Vincennes. Neukam finished with a team-high 16 points in the loss. For more photos from the game, click here.

That's when the well dried up for Southridge. Neukam was able to find her shot one final time, but the Raiders were unable to muster enough offense to reclaim the lead. The Tigers outscored them 6-2 in the fourth quarter to secure the win and move on to the championship game against the hosting Vincennes Lincoln Alices.

Sisk finished with 17 points to lead all scorers. Neukam finished her final game with 16 points.

It was tough for the Raiders to see their season end in such a fashion after laying it all out on the court Friday night, but the way they look at it they were a team that went to place few thought they could reach and they can hold their heads up knowing they gave it everything they had.

“We played hard, we executed our game plan well, just a couple of shots didn’t fall for us,” said Neukam. “I think if coach would have told us we had a chance to win sectional in the beginning of the season, we wouldn’t have believed him. Now that we’re here we all knew that we had everything it took to win a sectional. That confidence is the biggest thing we should take away from this season.”

In addition to praising his players, Rust also said he was grateful to have the support of the other coaches that made up the Raiders’ staff and made their late-season success possible.

“I want to thank my coaches,” he said. “Coach Kay, Winkler, Main, (and) Neukam. Those guys work endless hours. They’re very detailed about our schemes, they contribute very much in that.”

The team is hopeful for the future moving forward. There is a feeling that these last few games have sparked a change, one that the Raiders can ride when hardwood season rolls around again next year.

“I think we changed the culture of our team toward the end of the season,” said Nalley. “That should carry over to next season. We’re definitely going to have to fill Mady’s shoes, but I think we have a great chance of being a good team.”

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