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Breeze-Courier Sports Writer
(BOLINGBROOK) — The seventh grade girls basketball state champions of 2021 are your Taylorville Tornadoes!
The IESA Girls Class 7-4A Basketball State Championship took place last night in Bolingbrook, at Brooks Middle School. Pitting the two best out of the 95 teams in the state in the 7-4A division Taylorville took on Morton Junior High School and returned to Taylorville with an exciting 18-16 win and the first place trophy.
A driving lay-up by Grace Rogers with under five seconds to played ended up being the game winner.
“When they told me in the fall, when we first came together, this was one of their goals.” Head Coach Doug Bowsher recalled. “I knew if we could keep the game close it would play into our hands. This team (Morton) beat other teams 25-30 points every single night.”
Morton had a little bit of a size advantage but Taylorville had the determination and heart advantage. Ultimately, it was Taylorville who took home the hardware, the net and plenty of tears.
Taking the three hour trip to Bolingbrook to play, Taylorville had plenty of time to think about how badly they wanted to win this game. The biggest game of the year. A defensive matchup to the utmost of degrees. It might sound cliche, but these Tornadoes have wanted it from day one.
With warmups done and the girls comfortable in their role on the court, the first quarter got underway. Starting center Gianna Tarr won the tip-off, despite an ankle injury. Tarr’s father, Blake, explained her ankle was just a mild sprain with slight bruising. They had the ankle wrapped and braced just this game.
Hope Kietzman and Nora Thomas got the Tornadoes going early in the first quarter. Kietzman drilled a shot from beyond the arch for three points which would be her only points of the night. Morton matched the Tornadoes to make it 5-5 at the end of the first.
The second quarter is when the Potters pulled away, scoring 6 points by the end of the half. The Tornadoes struggled to get past the size and strength of the Potters defense, not scoring a single bucket in quarter number two.
Down 11-5 at halftime, forward Nora Thomas explained what Coach Bowsher and team had to say.
“At halftime we were down,” she said. “When we were in the locker room, we were pumping each other up just asking each other, ‘how can we do this?’”.
The team came out and executed their assignments. McKynlee Siempelkamp recorded a lay-up and got to the line for a free throw as well. She ended with three total points.
Nora Thomas scored 6 points in the third, giving her 8 total points for the game and being leading scorer for Taylorville. Thomas also had a few very clutch rebounds over the length of Morton.
Each Tornado knew their role and gave it everything they had, climbing back into the driver’s seat by scoring 11 points in the third quarter and take a 16-13 lead into the final 6 minutes.
Going into what was the final quarter of both team’s season, the air felt heavy, both teams were ready . Defense was emphasized in the final quarter. Neither team willing to budge through the entirety of the final quarter.
With about 3 minutes to go in the fourth, the Potters tied the game, 16-16. Taylorville desperately needing to make something happen they do. Forward Grace Rogers found her way to the Taylorville hoop and fought for a close shot with three seconds to spare to win the game!
Morton had time for one more shot, but it didn’t matter. The gym became overwhelmed with emotions as the final buzzer rang out with the score in favor of Taylorville, 18-16.
Every Tornado player, family member and friend celebrated with the person next to them. Tears of joy sprayed out the eyes of many. The Taylorville Tornadoes seventh grade team had done it.
“It felt unreal,” Rogers said, recalling the game-winning shot and the hard fought game. “We pushed our hardest and it’s just amazing.”
Leading scorer Thomas and Gianna Tarr had a few words of their own.
“I feel like it’s a dream,” said Thomas “At the end of the day all that matters is that we came as a team and pulled this off.”
“Im really excited and I’m trying not to cry right now,” Tarr explained, still in a state of shock from the victory.
An emotional Doug Bowsher had to hold back tears of his own.
“Morton was a great team and a great opponent. It’s sad someone has to lose but by golly we are state champs!,” He said.
Just talking with Bowsher it is prominent he is stunned with this groups effort and will power.
“To finish number one out of 95 teams? Wow. That speaks volumes to them,” said the coach. “This group earned it. I just want to thank them for taking me on this journey with them.”
Nets cut down, a medal was given to each player along with the team trophy. Draped around the trophy was the net from the hoop.
A very special moment these girls, coaches, fans and families will never forget. This was, as advertised, a game for the ages. The Taylorville Tornadoes seventh grade girls basketball team are state champions of Class 7-4A in 2021.