About three years ago the Switzerland County Lady Pacer basketball program was suffering through some growing pains.
Recruiting players with very little experience to fill out rosters meant struggles on the scoreboard and with the team’s win-loss record, but Coach Ashley Kitts knew that as her young team grew, the growing pains would someday switch to success.
That happened on Saturday night, as the Lady Pacers celebrated Valentine’s Day with a 54-46 victory over North Decatur, earning the girls basketball program its first Sectional title since 2004; and giving the team a record 20 wins on the season.
But it didn’t come without some struggle.
When North Decatur jumped out to an early 4-0 lead, it was the first time that Switzerland County had trailed at any point in the Sectional. The Lady Pacers battled back on three straight baskets by Brooke Todd and two freethrows by Eve Galbreath, but at the close of the first quarter, North Decatur held a 10-8 advantage.
The Lady Pacers got things rolling in the second quarter, outscoring the Lady Chargers by a 17-9 count, but that also came with a struggle.
Senior Eve Galbreath, the second leading scorer all time in school history, was forced to the bench when she was whistled for her second personal foul with 6:11 to go in the second quarter and Switzerland County holding a 12-11 lead.
The senior center’s absence meant that the Lady Pacers would shift gears with a smaller lineup, with Kelsi Konkle moving inside and doing outstanding work in controlling the North Decatur inside players.
Offensively, everyone rose to the occasion, as Brooke Todd had six more points in the period; Makenzie Mathews had five on a three-pointer and a jumper; and Kelsi Konkle, Whitley Schirmer, and Hailee Lay all had baskets.
At the half, Switzerland County had gained a measure of control, 25-19.
The Lady Pacers moved out to a bit larger lead as the second half got underway; going on an 8-2 run behind Brooke Todd, Kelsi Konkle, Eve Galbreath, and Makenzie Mathews; and after Samantha Krieger scored for North Decatur, the Lady Pacers got two straight baskets from Brooke Todd to go up by 14.
That came with a price, as Eve Galbreath once again headed to the bench with foul troubles with 4:04 to play. This time she wasn’t there long, as Coach Kitts rolled the dice and re-inserted her back into the game after about a three minute break.
North Decatur made a run to close the quarter, getting a three-pointer from Samantha Krieger, two freethrows by Sarah Bohman, and a charity by Chelsea Hitchcock to get within nine with a quarter to go, 38-29.
The lead would shrink in the tension-filled and action packed final period, as the Lady Chargers made several runs, but couldn’t get over the hump, as Switzerland County converted crucial baskets and freethrows at critical times.
North Decatur got to within five with six minutes to play; but Eve Galbreath converted a tough shot inside. The Lady Chargers didn’t do themselves any favors from the freethrow line, either, as they were just 5-for-13 from the charity stripe over the final eight minutes, missing opportunities to cut further into the lead.
But each time the Switzerland County patience and discipline showed through. The Lady Pacers methodically moved the ball around on offense, burning precious minutes off of the clock before converting easy baskets.
A huge moment offensively came with just over three minutes to play, when junior Kelsi Konkle took advantage of a lag in the defense and drilled a three-pointer that caused the Pacer faithful to explode with excitement and took the air out of the North Decatur hopes of a comeback.
Down the stretch, the Lady Pacers converted their freethrows, going 7-for-10 over the final two minutes; and when Coach Kitts sent her reserves to the scorer’s table with 24-seconds to go, the team celebrated on the sidelines while the fans erupted in the stands.
Final score: Switzerland County 54, North Decatur 46.
Brooke Todd just simply wouldn’t be denied a Sectional title, taking over the game for entire stretches of time, finishing with 22 points and earning Sectional MVP honors.
Teammates Kelsi Konkle (nine points), Eve Galbreath (eight points), and Makenzie Mathews (seven points) all earned inclusion on the All Sectional team; and also scoring in the championship game were Hailee Lay with six points and Whitley Schirmer with two.
North Decatur was led by Sarah Bohman with 18 points, and Jessica Banaschak was in double figures with 10.