LAGRANGE — There is a win every successful program can look back on. The one win that turned the tide and built something more than just a winning team.
Friday night, after seasons of struggle, Churubusco girls’ basketball might have found that break.
The Lady Eagles stared down a 9-2 first quarter deficit to host Prairie Heights in the class 2A sectional semifinal. A switch to the full court press brought with it a fourth consecutive win for Churubusco, 56-46, and a berth in the sectional championship Saturday.
“It’s a great feeling to give these girls a chance to be in a sectional final game,” Churubusco head coach Jamie Perlich said. “You can’t ask for anymore than that.”
Entering the postseason, ’Busco (7-13) was riding a three-game win streak with wins over Lakeland, Central Noble and South Adams. The streak is the longest in the new millennium for ’Busco basketball.
The Lady Eagles looked to match their most wins since 2005 with seven. Ironically, the same season was the last time Churubusco beat Prairie Heights.
Two losses to the Lady Panthers this season had ’Busco in fear of a third early in the first quarter.
Behind post players Sicily Boyce and Emily Christoffel of Prairie Heights (9-12), the host built up a 9-2 lead. The two Heights seniors combined for 27 of the Panthers 46 points in the game.
With 2:17 left in the first, ’Busco coach Jamie Perlich called a time-out and turned up the defensive pressure.
“We knew we wanted to press but we had to score to get in our press,” Perlich noted. “Until we started scoring some buckets it was hard to get in that press. Once we got it going it was a big key for us.”
The press in place, Churubusco scored the last six points of the first quarter cutting the deficit to 9-8.
A deadlocked second quarter took the low scoring game into the locker room at halftime with ’Busco down 20-18.
However, the pressure got to Prairie Heights in the second half. After scoring the first four points of the third quarter, the Lady Panthers went on a five-minute scoring drought while Churubusco capitalized on their turnovers.
Lady Eagle junior Heather Monk took ’Busco on a 12-0 run through the third seeing its lead reach six points at one time.
“That second half we just turned up the intensity so much,” Perlich commented. “Defensively with the full court press and the trapping, we forced them into turnovers and hurried shots.”
Monk scored 12 of her 16 points in the second half as Churubusco finished the game 17-for-43 (40 percent) from the field.
The deficit grew on the Panthers from behind the perimeter. The Lady Eagles went 3-for-6 from three-point range. Two came as ’Busco extended its lead to double digits.
The game’s leading scorer, Haleigh Gross, hit her only three with five second left in the third to make the lead 33-28.
On the first possession of the fourth quarter, senior Nicole Wormcastle turned around and hit another three from the corner to add to the lead 36-28.
Ultimately, free throws and defense were the final dagger. Already up 40-30 with 4:22 left in the game, the Lady Eagles forced Prairie Heights turnovers and went to the line.
There ’Busco went 19-for-25 with Gross knocking down 11-of-12.
“We hit free throws,” Perlich said. “For a team that hits 54 percent from the line for the year, we shot the ball really well and it enabled us to keep the lead that we had.”
The win is the first in the postseason for Churubusco since 2008 when a 44-42 win over Fremont put the Lady Eagles up against Garrett.
The Railroaders have ended ’Busco’s season three out of the last four seasons and will have a chance to do it again in the sectional championship.
Garrett (21-2) tips off against Churubusco at 7:30 p.m. in a rematch of the season opener that went in the Lady Railroaders favor 53-25.