HOOPESTON — Coming into this season nobody knew how the Watseka girls basketball team season would unfold. The Warriors entered the season with just one senior on the roster — Kadyn Stevens — and had to bring some inexperienced underclassmen up to the varsity level. Watseka head coach Barry Bauer ended moving up five sophomores to his squad which left a lot of uncertainty as to how competitive his team would end up finishing.
Yet, fast forward to the end of the regular season and the Warriors found themselves at 21-8 overall and 6-0 in the Sangamon Valley Conference that they won, ending the season as winners of 12 of their last 15 games
“I don’t think anyone thought we would even be a .500 team this year,” Bauer said.
Try as they might, the Warriors couldn’t carry their regular season momentum into the postseason for a long run. The Warriors ran into a buzzsaw in the championship of the IHSA Class 2A Hoopeston Regional, as their season came to an abrupt end with a 66-34 loss to top-seeded Prairie Central.
A shortened roster due to some injuries left the Warriors shorthanded against a talented Hawks squad, leaving them without two of their primary ball handlers, Sydney McTaggart and Raegann Gooding. The duo was just two of four girls who could not suit up and play for Watseka in its regional title game.
Knowing Watseka was shorthanded, Prairie Central went with a full-court press early on in the first quarter. Without many ball handlers it forced Watseka into some bad passes which led to easy points off turnovers for the Hawks.
“They have a swarming defense,” Bauer said. “We turned it over but again, I had three girls on the bench who handle the ball who couldn’t play tonight.”
Not having a full lineup to go with in a championship game surely hurt the confidence of a young Warrior squad. Things did not get any easier for Watseka when Prairie Central was able to capitalize off most of its 3-point opportunities in the first half.
On top of perfectly executing the full-court press, the Hawks knocked down four first quarter 3-pointers which helped them take a commanding eight-point lead after one quarter of play.
“The big worry coming in was handling the press,” Bauer said. “I thought we did a pretty good job of that for the most part. We made a couple little runs, but that’s an awful good team and the group of girls I had, we are very proud of.”
Turnovers and missed opportunities around the basket continued in the second quarter for Watseka. It helped spark a 19-3 run by Prairie Central before the closing moments of the first half.
Once Watseka got down by double-digits at halftime it seemed as though all of the Warriors knew things were soon to be over. Prairie Central continued to pour it on in the second half. They opened the third quarter on a 13-2 run before running away with it.
Despite coming up short in the regional championship game coach Bauer is happy with how hard his girls competed and looking forward to what is to come of his young core.
“I think we came a long ways,” Bauer said. “We had one senior, she played a little bit, but not a lot. So we’ve got a big nucleus coming back, we hope to get healthy by the summertime so we can get back at it.”
Natalie Schroeder led the way for the Warriors, totaling a team-high 12 points and breaking the single-season record with 70 3-pointers in the process. Allie Hoy also chipped in nine points.