BEECHER — The final day of the 13th annual Beecher Fall Classic was a fitting finale to a five-day tournament that kicked off the 2019-20 season with plenty of excitement.
Though Beecher played an extremely tough game in which they steadfastly refused to give up, Providence Catholic was able to complete a 5-0 run through the tournament for the second straight year and secure the championship plaque with a 44-33 victory.
The Celtics’ reputation precedes them at the Fall Classic and they enter every matchup as an understood favorite. They were able to press that advantage a bit in spite of Beecher’s home-court advantage as the tournament’s host and charge out to an imposing 18-4 lead by the end of the first quarter.
The Bobcats were pretty clearly intimidated in the early-going and Providence was able to push them around with its intense, high-pressure defense and physical style. Though they were in a pretty tough spot after the first quarter, Beecher displayed some excellent resilience starting in the second quarter, then parlayed it into a full-blown rally with an 8-0 run to start the second half that brought the deficit to a narrow three points at 27-24 with just less than four minutes to go in the third.
“Somewhere around the middle of the second, we started doing a much better job of looking for each other. Making those easy passes rather than just going for the home run,” said Beecher coach Adam Keen. “I thought we did much better in that aspect, and it kind of started to click for us from there. Playing as a team and with a little more patience and control really helped us.”
The Bobcats ended the first half with momentum in their favor, in spite of the dreadfully slow start. That momentum was further multiplied with the rally they put together to start the third quarter, during which they kept the Celtics from scoring at all until five minutes had elapsed in the third frame.
Providence recovered a bit in the final minutes of the third and took a slightly more comfortable 33-26 lead into the fourth, but their grasp on the contest was anything but a sure thing considering the dominant lead they had watched evaporate during the middle quarters.
“I think that the end of the second quarter got us some momentum going into the locker room and gave us that feeling of ‘Hey, we can do this.’ We were right there and only a couple of plays out of it,” Keen said. “We talked again about patience at the offensive end; we limited our turnovers, and all of a sudden, those nice, easy baskets helped us build up some momentum.
“I have three seniors, but I also have a really young squad, and I was just really impressed with the fight they showed. I’m very proud,” he added. “I don’t schedule this tournament to be easy. We invite some tough [IHSA] Class 3A schools, and we’re the smallest school here. But we want that challenge, and I’m really happy with the way they stepped up to face it and with our level of play.”
Kaylie Sippel led the Bobcats with 12 points in the loss, knocking down a pair of 3-pointers along the way and shooting 4 for 6 from the line. The rest of the squad struggled mightily from the stripe, however, and Beecher shot just 7 for 17 as a team at the line — something they’ll need to focus on as the season progresses.
Peotone 38, St. Laurence 37
In the third place game, which took place just before Providence’s championship victory, Peotone’s Mae Graffeo displayed some late game heroics and a tremendously clutch trip to the free-throw line to end the Fall Classic on a win.
Trailing 35-34 with 90 seconds left in the fourth quarter, the Blue Devils needed someone to take control down the stretch in the third-place game. That duty fell to Graffeo, and the senior forward came through in a big way with some help from sophomore guard Dani Piper.
Graffeo drew a foul down low with 49 seconds remaining and made one of two free throws to tie things up at 35. Peotone wrested control of Graffeo’s second free-throw attempt, then got the ball out to Piper near the perimeter, who drained a long jumper to give the Devils a two-point lead with 40 seconds left.
St. Laurence knotted things back up at 37, however with a quick slash to the basket with 12 seconds to go, prompting a timeout from Devils head coach Steve Strough that set up the game-winning play.
A aggressive inbounds pass deep through the St. Laurence defense from McKenna Evans found Graffeo under the rim with 10 seconds to go. Graffeo wasn’t able to convert the basket, but she did manage to draw a foul from the panicked Vikings defenders and went to the line for two free throws in a 37-37 tie.
With the pressure at its peak Graffeo missed the first free throw, but was able to steel herself against the nerves and sink the second to ensure Peotone’s 38-37 win and a third place finish at this year’s Fall Classic.
“You feel good she’s going to get at least one of them. You hope it’s the first one for the sake of your nerves, but I felt good that she would get at least one of those for us,” Strough said. “We had three really good games here against some quality teams and we found a way to win. We feel really good about that and we feel pretty good about where we’re at right now.”
A version of this story appeared in the Friday digital edition of the Daily Journal.