GARDNER — For the better part of the century, St. Anne has stood head and shoulders above the rest of their competition in the River Valley Conference, but Gardner-South Wilmington evened the playing field last season by winning the RVC and sweeping the Cardinals, including a win in the IHSA Class 1A Dwight Regional Championship.
The Panthers entered the season looking to keep their new rank in the conference with a home victory against the Cardinals when the two teams clashed Tuesday potentially giving them a leg up.
After the Cardinals stormed out of the gate with a 12-1 run to start the game, the two teams traded runs all game before overtime was required to rule a winner, with St. Anne heading home victorious by a 70-62 final score.
The victory moved the Cardinals to 12-5 and an unblemished 4-0 in the RVC, and the Panthers fell to .500 at 9-9 (2-2).
It was the offense early on that spurred the Cardinals, but coach Rick Schoon said it was the defensive side of the ball where he saw the crunch-time work pay dividends, as the Panthers shot 1 for 4 in the overtime period and had four turnovers.
“I have a lot of confidence in these kids, and the thing they did in the fourth quarter and overtime was contest shots, and we didn’t give up those second-chance opportunities,” Schoon said. “The kids really bared down in the overtime, and once we were able to establish that lead and then extend it a little bit — they realized they needed to finish this game off.”
As aggressive as the Cardinals were to start the game, they evened things with a more passive approach near the end of the first quarter and the beginning of the second. That allowed the Panthers to find themselves right back in the game at 18-16 after a Connor Steichen layup a few minutes into the second.
Steichen again and it's 18-16. pic.twitter.com/VN5wSUIU5h— Mason Schweizer (@MSchweizerTDJS) January 15, 2020
But the Cardinals got their lead back to double-digits immediately. Amari Winston drilled back-to-back 3-pointers to re-ignite the Cardinals, who ended the half on a 12-4 run and led 30-20 at the half.
The seesaw affair continued in the third, a quarter in which the Panthers rode an early 10-3 run that eventually blossomed into a 40-39 lead at the end of the quarter.
Cardinals senior Brooks Schoon, who led the Cardinals with 18 points, said his team knows it’s going to get every team’s best punch, which they got in the third from their RVC rivals.
“We know we’ve got a target on our backs in this conference and in the area, and we know we [have to] give our best effort every night,” Brooks Schoon said. “We had a horrible third quarter, and they hit shots; you’ve got to give them credit.”
The Panthers continued their streak into the fourth, scoring the quarter’s first four points to take a 44-39 lead, their largest lead of the night.
Wills credited Connor Steichen’s hot hand, as he scored 16 of his game-high 26 points in the second half.
“He finally took over,” Wills said of his potential-filled, 6-foot-4 junior forward. “He’s athletic; he’s long; he can shoot from the outside, and he can crash the boards.”
But after Stephan Munoz tied the game for the Cardinals at 46 with six minutes left, the two teams traded four ties and six lead changes in their back-and-forth battle, with the score deadlocked at 57 after regulation.
The extra frame was all Cardinals. They shot a whopping 13 free throws in the extra frame and hit nine of them, including a 6-for-8 effort from Brooks Schoon.
Brooks said as the Cardinals hit the peak of the conference season, it’s consistency, whether on a night-to-night or game-by-game basis, that will be key for the team.
“Consistency has been our biggest struggle,” he said. “We beat Central by 20 at the Kankakee Holiday Tournament, and then they came out and beat us last week.
“We need to stop settling and being complacent.”
Steichen added eight rebounds, four assists and two steals to his 26 points. Chris Bexson had nine points, three rebounds, two assists and a steal. Nate Wise added eight points, nine rebounds, four assists and three steals.
Brooks Schoon’s team-leading 18 points were complimented by four rebounds, six assists and a steal. Cortez Baines had 13 points, seven rebounds and three assists. Connor Cotton went for 12 points, seven boards and two assists. Stephan Munoz was also in double-figures with 10 points.
The Cardinals host Grant Park at 7 p.m. Friday for a battle of RVC unbeatens, the same time Gardner-South Wilmington hosts Tri-Point.