Heavy graduation losses from last year left the Thomas More Prep-Marian girls basketball team young and somewhat inexperienced entering this season, leading some to believe the door was open for another team to end TMP’s Mid-Continent League reign.
But even with new faces and new roles, the Monarchs produced the same results.
The TMP girls ran the table in the MCL slate, wrapping up the outright title with a hard-earned 56-51 win over Plainville on Monday night at Al Billinger Fieldhouse.
TMP finished MCL play at 9-0 and moved to 15-4 overall. The Monarchs have won every MCL regular-season title since joining the league in 2014.
“At the start of the season, I don’t think we were probably seeded to be league champions,” TMP coach Rose McFarland said. “But they really stepped up. They’ve won a lot of close games. They just found a way to win in all those games. I’m really proud of them."
TMP seniors Jillian Lowe and Emily Schippers and junior Adell Riedel entered the season as the only Monarchs to play significant minutes on last year’s team that finished fourth in Class 3A. Those three have helped lead the way this year while TMP’s underclassmen have made strides along the way.
“We lost some real good players the last couple years,” McFarland said. “It seems like every year somebody steps up. They figure out their roles and we just tried to figure out how to piece it all together.
“I think we have really good leaders this year. The other girls have bought in. It’s just been a fun year for us.”
Plainville (11-9) stayed right with the Monarchs the entire way and led 24-21 at halftime after five straight points from Halli Friend in the closing moments of the second quarter.
“First half, we were a little bit flustered. We had a lot of turnovers the first half,” McFarland said. “Second half, we cut back on the turnovers, although we did give up quite a few offensive rebounds. I thought we played better as far as handling the ball and handling pressure.”
The fourth quarter went back and forth and Plainville trailed by two with less than a minute left, but freshman Megan Hamel and Lowe each hit two free throws to open up a six-point cushion. The Monarchs went 16 of 20 at the foul line in the fourth quarter and were 24 of 30 from the line for the game.
Junior standout Aubree Dewey helped engineer Plainville’s upset bid, scoring a game-high 28 points.
“I thought Jillian did a good job on her,” McFarland said. “She got around us a couple times. She’s really good at seeing her teammates and making passes. I thought maybe we could have helped a little bit sooner on her at times, but she’s tough to guard. She’s a really good player.”
Lowe and Schippers each scored 15 for the Monarchs and Riedel chipped in 11. Freshman Emilee Lane came through late with a big bucket to put the Monarchs up four with 2:24 left. Hamel also hit five key free throws in the fourth to help TMP's cause.
“(Lane’s) tall, long; she does a really good job of just getting rebounds,” McFarland said. “She goes and grabs the ball. She’s good around the basket. Megan passed that one to her; they work really well together because they’ve played together for years. She just snuck right in there and got that big basket there at the end.
“I thought defensively (Hamel) did some good things and she got some rebounds, too,” McFarland said. “She’s just a real smart basketball player."
TMP picked up its eighth straight win since falling to Norton in the MCL Tournament. The Monarchs will close out the regular season against Hutchinson-Trinity on Thursday night at home.
“Hutch Trinity, we didn’t play them last year because we got snowed out, so they’re a team we don’t really know that well,” McFarland said. “I think they’re comparable to us. It should be a really good game. We want to finish out strong going into sub-state.”
Plainville boys 63, TMP 60
Junior standout Jared Casey poured in 32 points and came up clutch late to help the Cardinals take down the Monarchs.
Casey put Plainville in front with a bucket with 46 seconds left, then hit two free throws with 15.2 seconds remaining to give the Cardinals a three-point lead before TMP missed a desperation corner 3-pointer at the buzzer.
“I’m super happy with the way we played. We battled, and we knew we were going to have to in order to even have a chance,” Plainville coach Chris Drees said. “We’re out-matched frontline-wise by about six inches at every position. We dug deep. I played a lot of guys a lot of minutes. We made some great stops at the end when we had to.
“Sometimes it’s the extra-effort plays that are going to get you the wins.”
TMP (10-10, 5-4 MCL) led by four on three different occasions in the fourth quarter but couldn’t gain more separation, thanks in part to two Casey 3-pointers in the final frame.
“This was a (good learning experience) for our guys for sub-state,” TMP coach Bill Meagher said. “One, I think Plainvillle was hungrier to get this win tonight than we were. I think that’s a good lesson for our guys. Two, I think you’ve got to make a lot of smart decisions to close out games. I think we had a lot of things down the stretch that we would like to take back.”
Casey hit five 3-pointers and went 11 for 11 from the line. His late go-ahead bucket came on a driving layup.
“I was glad to see the aggressiveness,” Drees said. “He couldn’t be that aggressive early on, just because he got in some foul trouble. I think he was trying to stay out of getting too serious (in foul trouble). But at that point of the game, we’ve got to find a way to make a play.”
Senior Tanner Copeland added 17 for the Cardinals, who closed the regular season at 14-6 and 7-2 in MCL play.
“That was a big win,” Drees said. “I hope that propels us and give us some momentum going into sub-state. Any time you go to TMP and win, that’s tough.”
Jackson Schulte and Ryan Karlin each had 10 for TMP.
Monday's games were originally scheduled for Tuesday but moved up a day due to the threat of inclement weather on Tuesday.