New Haven could have easily folded

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By Keith Davis
With a few seconds remaining in Saturday’s Class 2 State Championship game, Harrisburg seniors Chelsey Kroese and Paige Heibel shared an embrace; savoring the final moments of a 29-2 season capped off with another state championship. They expected to be there. They carried themselves with an air of confidence that emanates from champions and made enough key plays to outlast New Haven. Simply put, the Harrisburg Bulldogs proved to be the better team.

On the opposite end of the court, the Lady Shamrocks gathered themselves; some tearful, some stoic, all hurt.

I have a hard time summarizing an entire season by focusing on a single game. In typical three-act structure—beginning, middle, end—some may consider the outcome a tragedy, but that is to blatantly ignore where these Lady ‘Rocks came from.

February 16, 2012 could very well have been the end of the second act. That is when the story shifted and the questions surrounding the team mounted. New Haven had just been handled by Pacific 49-26. Their record fell to 11-12. Mired in a three-game losing streak—their longest of the season—New Haven could have easily folded.

Instead, they began playing their best basketball of the season.

In a high-pressure situation in the sectional game versus state-ranked Meadow Heights, sophomore Stephanie Gerling calmly sank a game-winning free throw with 3.5 seconds left. Against an aggressive South Pemiscot team in the quarterfinals, senior Elise McDonald retaliated with 11 points and 7 rebounds. Sophomore Rachel Steinhoff grinded out 32 minutes against South Pemiscot’s ultra-talented point guard Carrie Shephard, holding Shephard to 17 points—8 below her season average—while scoring 16 herself.

In the state semifinal versus Marionville, everything came together for the Lady Shamrocks. Coach Dave Luecke’s squad played a near flawless game. The savvy Steinhoff controlled the tempo and paced New Haven with 19 points. McDonald pulled down 10 rebounds and Emily Kallmeyer led the team with 5 assists. Gerling gave them a boost with 9 points and several key hustle plays. Senior Kayla Oetterer provided 8 points, 5 rebounds, and some timely help defense against Marionville standout Josie Young. Good teams put opposing teams away at the free throw line. Junior Kierstin Monzyk and Steinhoff combined to shoot 13-15 from the free line; each make just as crucial as the last. Contributions throughout the lineup promised New Haven a shot in Saturday’s championship game.

In the final, they fell short. For Harrisburg, they probably felt a sense of relief. From Day One, they expected to win the state championship and carried the weight of that expectation through an entire grueling season. New Haven’s program will feel that weight soon enough. They took steps in that direction from the end of the second act. State play will become the expectation, not the exception.

The third act officially ended with the final horn Saturday. From where this team came from, a Class 2 second-place finish should be considered a happy ending.