ORION -- Throughout the season, Sherrard girls' basketball coach Doug Swanson has touted his team's balanced scoring as one of its major strengths.|
Thursday night, that balance served to tip the scales in the Tigers' favor as they fended off West Central North rival Orion to earn a 48-39 victory and wrap up their second straight outright conference championship after splitting the 2011 WCC North crown with Illini West.
It was also the final WCC North championship for Sherrard (24-3, 9-1), as it will join Orion and fellow area rival Rockridge in heading to the Three Rivers Conference next season.
"It's a great feeling,'' Sherrard senior forward Annie Winston said of securing the division title. "It's a big confidence boost, but we'll celebrate it (Thursday night), then be ready to go for the regionals starting Friday.''
Winston led the Tigers in both scoring and rebounding with 16 points and seven boards, heading up an effort that included 13 points and six boards from junior forward Shelby Calderone and 10 points and five caroms by senior guard Carly Adams. Junior Riley Strandgard added six points, five rebounds and three steals.
"That's been one of our strengths, the balance we've had on offense, and that was the key again tonight,'' said Swanson. "When you're that balanced, you can't focus on just one person.''
Offensive rebounding also proved crucial for the Tigers in the second half as they were able to keep the Chargers (18-9, 5-5) at arm's length throughout after building a 26-21 halftime lead. Also key was the fact that, unlike Sherrard, the bulk of Orion's offense went through senior center Cassidy Clark.
Celebrating Senior Night with classmates Morgan Dahl, Katie Garrity and Abby Taets, Clark delighted the home fans with game highs of 25 points and 13 rebounds. However, she fouled out with 3:04 left to play and Sherrard holding a 42-37 lead. A pair of subsequent Garrity free throws made it 43-39 with 2:45 remaining, but the hosts could get no closer.
"She was going straight up. It's frustrating, that's what it is,'' Orion coach John McBride said of Clark's fifth foul. "But you know what, if our guards don't shoot well, we struggle a bit. Sherrard's a nice team, but they're not so dominant that we're afraid of them. We just gave them too many second chances tonight, and they made it hurt.''
Sparked by a quick start from Calderone, Sherrard grabbed an early 10-4 lead before the Chargers settled down, closing to within a bucket before Adams' buzzer-beater put the Tigers up 14-10 after one. Sherrard gradually worked its way to an eight-point lead in the second period before Orion closed the gap to 26-21 by halftime. That lead grew to 35-27 entering the final quarter.
"It's always fun to play Orion, and we get psyched up to play them,'' said Winston. "Cassidy is a good player, and you have to respect her in the lane and all she does. But once she got her fifth foul, we were ready to secure the win.''