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St. Bede seniors Lydia Stariha (left), Mo Dean (center) and Whitley Funfsinn react after the Lady Bruins fell 58-38 to Byron in the Class 2A Somonauk Sectional championship. NewsTribune photo/Amanda Whitlock
St. Bede senior Lydia Stariha (No. 20) drives to the basket as Byron’s Ashley dinges defends Thursday during the Lady Bruins’ 58-38 loss in the Class 2A Somonauk Sectional championship. NewsTribune photo/Amanda Whitlock
SOMONAUK — What made this season so hard for the St. Bede girls basketball team made Thursday’s Class 2A Somonauk Sectional final so special for senior Whitley Funfsinn.
After the Lady Bruins struggled to start the season and battled numerous injuries and illnesses throughout, St. Bede managed to survive the roller coaster and advance to its second sectional final in three years.
Getting there wasn’t easy.
The journey, however, made Thursday even more satisfying.
Even though the Lady Bruins saw their season come to an end Thursday with a 58-38 loss to Byron, playing for a sectional title — after all St. Bede endured — made the loss a win to Funfsinn.
“I think this season was remarkable,” the senior captain said. “We started off really slow and struggled a lot, but we came together in the middle and made it to the sectional championship, which is a lot farther than anybody expected us to go.
“It didn’t just click for us. We had to work at it and, when we put all the effort in, it showed how much we really loved each other.”
In the end, the Lady Bruins just didn’t have enough against state-ranked Byron. Despite St. Bede trailing by just three points at halftime, the Tigers used its size advantage to outscore SBA 35-18 in the second half, including 15-6 in the third quarter.
“We knew St. Bede was going to play hard, and we knew it was going to be a dogfight,” said Byron coach Eric Yerly, a 1998 Hall High School graduate. “We just kind of stuck to the game plan, which was to keep the pressure up, wear them down and hopefully those shots don’t fall in the second half — and that’s kind of what happened.”
St. Bede stayed within striking distance in the first half after Byron senior center and University of Toledo recruit Sophie Reecher picked up two fouls in the first five minutes and sat for most of the remainder of the half.
With the 6-foot-3 post out, the Lady Bruins cut a nine-point deficit to a point on two occasions in the second quarter and trailed 23-20 at intermission.
“If you would’ve told me (Wednesday) it would be a three-point game at halftime, I would say, ‘I’d take that,’” SBA coach Tom McGunnigal said. “That’s what we wanted. We wanted it in the 20s. Credit (our) girls. They came out and executed very, very well, had a lot of energy and a lot of patience, hit some shots and rebounded well.”
However, Reecher made her presence felt in the second half.
Her three-point play just 2:15 into the third quarter increased the Tigers lead to 28-22, and her putback two minutes later gave Byron a 33-24 cushion.
The Tigers pushed the lead to 14 points late in the third quarter before slowly pulling away to the 20-point win.
Reecher had 11 of her game-high 19 points and seven of her game-high nine rebounds in the second half.
“Sophie got in foul trouble (in the first half), but we were up 5-6-7 points so we just left her on the bench because we didn’t want her to get her third foul,” Yerly said. “We obviously don’t score as much when she is not in, but once she came back in the second half, we went inside and took off.”
Byron’s Ellie Lehne added eight points and eight rebounds, while Mayson Whipple drained three of the Tigers’ six 3-point shots and finished with 11 points.
Senior Mo Dean had a team-high 15 points and eight rebounds for SBA, while junior Laura Sickely added 10 points and Lydia Stariha six points.
St. Bede finishes at 18-16.
“It was a roller coaster,” McGunnigal said. “You start the season with high expectations, but as the days went by we did not reach those expectations and struggled through no fault of the girls. There were injuries, sickness and people missing. But ultimately, the team that they are came through at the end and in the postseason.”
Notes: SBA junior post Raley Mauck played in Thursday’s game. It was the first time she has played since injuring her knee on Jan. 24. … With the win, Byron advances to Monday’s Class 2A Monmouth College Super-Sectional where it will play El Paso-Gridley. … Thursday’s game was also special for both the mothers of McGunnigal and Yerly in more ways than one. Sybil McGunnigal and Kathy Yerly work together at La Salle-Peru High Township School and are also close friends. … No area players advanced to state in the 3-point showdown.
Jared Bell can be reached at 220-6938, or at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsJared.
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