Perhaps still amped up from a thrilling quarterfinal win the night before, the Thunder Ridge girls jumped out to early leads of 9-3 and 11-5 over St. Paul and looked primed to claim a spot in the Class 1A Division I title game.
Unfortunately for the Longhorns, the hot start could not be sustained.
St. Paul grabbed all the momentum by the second quarter and held off a brief fourth-quarter rally to hand Thunder Ridge a 42-34 loss in the semifinals on Friday night in Gross Memorial Coliseum.
St. Paul evened up the score at 11 by the end of the first quarter and outscored Thunder Ridge 16-6 in the second frame. The Indians never gave up the lead in the second half, advancing to the championship game to face defending state champ Hanover at 4 p.m. on Saturday.
“I think the big thing was (St. Paul coach Doug Tuck) called a couple timeouts to cool us off, and we did,” Thunder Ridge coach Darren Grauerholz said of the Longhorns’ quick start “Then they made a few adjustments and we just didn’t come down and get those shots that we had earlier.”
The Longhorns trailed by as much as 10 in the third quarter and were down 31-23 heading to the fourth. Thunder Ridge pulled to within three with 4:22 left after a 3-pointer from Mariah Stauffer, but St. Paul’s Sydney Rice answered with a trey to restore St. Paul’s lead to six.
Moments later, Thunder Ridge guard Layne Pettijohn picked up her fifth foul and guard Brennan Kirchhoff fouled out shortly thereafter.
“There were just big events that happened and it was all in their favor. But that’s the way it goes,” said Grauerholz, who contended St. Paul got away with a traveling call during Thunder Ridge’s run that could have kept the momentum on the Longhorns' side.
The Indians were led by the tandem of Rice and Katelin O’Brien. Rice finished with 18 while O’Brien put up 16.
“They started hitting and then we had to go to a junk defense,” Grauerholz said. “We were able to control (O’Brien) and then Sydney Rice started getting hot.”
Kirchhoff scored a team-high 11 points for the Longhorns, who were hurt by 17 turnovers.
Thunder Ridge will play South Central (24-1) in the third-place game at noon on Saturday.
“We got here, we won in the first round and now let’s go ahead and win one more,” Grauerholz said. “We’d sure like to win the last game of the year. Unfortunately, it isn’t for the championship, but hopefully we get one more W this year.”