PATCH GROVE - Clinging to a 15-10 halftime lead over River Ridge in their season finale, Belmont head coach Kaleen McGettigan didn’t have to resort to a heart-tugging Knute Rockne-type speech or a fire-and-brimstone Bob Knight-type speech to motivate her team for the second half.
She knew her players were well aware of what was at stake in the game. They just needed to be reminded what they had to do to get it done.
McGettigan’s Braves started the second half with 11 unanswered points to open up a comfortable lead on the host Timberwolves and they rolled on from there to lock up a share of their first-ever girls’ basketball conference championship with a 37-19 Six Rivers West victory at RRHS on Thursday, Feb. 23.
“It wasn’t by any means one of my motivational speeches. I just reminded them of what they had to do,” admitted McGettigan, who led the Lady Braves to three third place finishes and a fifth place finish in her previous four seasons. “Words cannot explain how this feels and how proud I am of this group of girls.”
Belmont has had little to celebrate on the basketball court since winning the school’s one and only regional championship back in 1978, so when the game clock finally hit 00:00 the Braves cut loose for themselves and for all the Braves’ teams that came before them.
“This is awesome. I couldn’t ask for a better team. We just made history,” noted senior Molly Bockhop. “This is an amazing feeling. I can’t even describe it. I’m not used to this in basketball.”
The Braves (19-3 overall, 9-1 in SRW) could have gained outright possession of the 2011-12 Six Rivers West crown had Highland beat Potosi on Thursday night, but the Chieftains (9-1) were able to eke out a 67-66 win over the Cardinals to capture their own share of the title.
While the Belmont offense was a little slow getting started on Thursday night, there was nothing wrong with their defense as the Timberwolves (8-13, 4-6) managed just 10 points over the first 16 minutes of play.
“You talk about playing to win and don’t play scared to lose. I think the first half we did a little of both. In the second half, we played to win,” McGettigan said. “We just needed to calm down and take the shots we knew we could make and play our game.”
Senior Kailee Kamps hit a couple of key shots to start off the third quarter to get the guests rolling, and the defense did the rest forcing several quick turnovers to fuel the Braves’ transition game.
The Braves went into the fourth quarter sporting a 30-17 advantage and they locked up the victory- and a share of the title- by limiting the ‘Wolves to a single field goal in the final frame.
“Just knowing that we’re the ones who did it and everyone contributed to it feelings really good,” commented Kamps. “We’re finally going to put a number on the (girls’ basketball) sign and we can always say that we did this. We started it, and I hope the tradition doesn’t end.”
Kamps finished with a game-high 16 points. Junior Cassie McCarthy added five points for the Braves, while senior Amanda Adams and sophomore Jordyn Kamps netted four points apiece along with Bockhop.
“I was a little nervous (at halftime), but I knew we had it. We were in the locker room and everyone could just feel it. We knew we had it in us, and I knew we were going to pull this off,” added Bockhop.
And, that was a good thing for the large congregation of Belmont fans who battled Thursday night’s snowstorm to make the long trip to Patch Grove to witness a bit of Braves’ history.
“The crowd support tonight was incredible considering the trip and the weather,” stated McGettigan. “To see this many fans and members of the community came out to support us was truly amazing.”
Belmont has off until the playoffs begin on Tuesday, March 6. The Lady Braves drew the #2-seed in their sectional bracket for the upcoming WIAA Division 5 tournament and they will host #15-seeded Cassville (0-21) in a regional quarterfinal contest on Tuesday, starting at 7 p.m.
Belmont 37, River Ridge 19
(from Thursday, Feb. 17 @ River Ridge)
Belmont 11 4 15 7 - 37
River Ridge 7 3 7 2 - 19
Belmont (19-3, 9-1) - Molly Bockhop 4, Keegan Kamps 2, Amanda Adams 4, Cassie McCarthy 5, Kailee Kamps 16, Kayln Kamps 2, Jordyn Kamps 4. Totals - 16 5-7 37.
River Ridge (8-13, 4-6) - White 2, Herrick 8, Breuer 2, Kirschbaum 4, Crapp 3. Totals - 7 4-7 19.
3-point goals - RR: Herrick. Team fouls - B: 7; RR: 11. Fouled out - none.