Basketball

Covenant Christian reaches second straight 2A Final Four

FILE – Covenant Christian Warriors coach Joe Smith has the Warriors back in the Class 2A Final Four.

FILE – Covenant Christian Warriors coach Joe Smith has the Warriors back in the Class 2A Final Four.

When the Covenant Christian girls basketball team followed the transfer of Junior All-Star Rachel McLimore with an 0-5 start to the season, most outside the program left the Warriors for dead.

Now they’re going to their second straight Final Four.

Class 2A unranked Warriors won the Speedway regional Saturday night with a 52-44 victory over Eastern Hancock, and will play Eastern (Pekin) in next Saturday’s semistate for a return trip to the state finals.

“From top to bottom in terms of talent, chemistry, buy-in, it’s been the most enjoyable group of kids,” said Covenant coach Joe Smith, whose squad was the 2A runner-up last year. “We have great leaders, role players, kids who just want to win.”

Emma Cooper (12 points), Rebecca Schrad (11) and Jacqueline Ryals (10) scored in double figures for Covenant (16-9), which beat Winchester 49-43 earlier in the day.

An under-the-weather Mikayla Cleary had six points for Covenant, all on free throws.

“She was throwing up this morning in the walkthrough, before the game, heaving in the trash can during timeouts and she wasn’t any better tonight,” Smith said. “You couldn’t tell it by the way she played.”

Eastern Hancock topped South Putnam 54-42 in Saturday’s second semifinal, but fell one rally short in the finale. Emiley Carlton (16 points) and Bailey Allen (15) led the Royals, who finished the season 16-11.

“We battled, they kept stretching out the lead, and it’s tough against a team like that to get that lead flipped,” Eastern Hancock coach Andy Meneely said. “We did a great job defensively and rebounding, just went on a little drought there at the end.”

The first half was far from an offensive showcase. With few good looks inside, the teams hit just 6-of-27 from 3-point range. The lead changed hands six times in the second quarter, and a basket by Cooper gave Covenant a 21-20 edge at the break.

The second half featured run after run. Covenant started with an eight-point streak, Eastern Hancock followed with 10 in a row to go ahead, then Covenant reeled off the last six of the third quarter.

Up 41-39 with two minutes left, Covenant finished with an 11-5 spurt to put it away.

“This team’s mindset at the start of the season was that it had something to prove,” Smith said. “They’ve done that, and I can’t say enough about them.”


COVENANT CHRISTIAN 52, EASTERN HANCOCK 44

Covenant       12        9       15        16        —  52

Eastern Hancock      14         6       10        14        —  44

Covenant Christian (16-9) — Everett 3 0-0 8, Cleary 0 6-9 6, Halderman 1 3-6 5, Ryals 4 1-1 10, Schrad 5 0-0 11, Anderson 0 0-0 0, Cooper 4 4-7 12. Totals: 17 14-23 52.

Eastern Hancock (16-11) — Best 1 0-0 3, Webster 0 0-0 0, West 1 0-0 2, Durham 1 0-0 2, Carlton 7 1-4 16, Gilbert 1 1-2 4, Lewman 0 0-0 0, Allen 4 4-6 15, Smith 1 0-0 2. Totals: 15 6-12 44.

3-point goals: Covenant 4 (Everett 2, Ryals, Schrad), Eastern Hancock 6 (Allen 3, Best, Carlton, Gilbert)

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