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Lady Bruins, PC both advance to final – LaSalle News Tribune

The St. Bede girls basketball team is in a much different place now than it was when it lost to Putnam County by five points during the Lady Bruins Christmas Classic on Dec. 23.
That loss was part of a 1-16 start to the season for the Lady Bruins.
After that tough 17-game stretch to start the year, St. Bede is 8-8 after Tuesday’s 57-29 rout of Midland in a Class 1A St. Bede Regional semifinal.
“It is a lot different now,” St. Bede coach Tom McGunnigal said. “We’ve grown up. My sophomores have 33 games under their belts. They’ve grown up quite a bit. We’re playing really well right now. I hope that continues.”
The No. 5-seeded Lady Bruins (9-24) get another shot at the No. 2 Lady Panthers (16-15) at 7 p.m. Thursday.
“They get after it,” McGunnigal said. “They’re quick. Their guards are good. (Sophie) Harris on the inside is solid. They get after the ball. We’re going to have to take care of it. Hopefully, we’ll knock some shots down. We have to play our game. Play the way we’ve been playing. It should be a lot of fun.
Putnam County advanced with a 41-25 victory over Dwight in Tuesday’s first semifinal.
“We have to play St. Bede on their home floor,” PC coach Jared Sale said. “At this point, people are really focusing in and scouting. I know coach McGunnigal is going to do a great job having us scouted.
“We’ll see what happens. We just have to be prepared. We have to lay it on the line and play 32 minutes of basketball. If we do that, I like our chances.”
Sale was nervous throughout the day Tuesday with his Lady Panthers taking a six-game losing streak into the postseason.
It turns out, he had no reason to worry as Putnam County scored the game’s first six points and never trailed.
“It’s been three weeks since we’ve won a basketball game,” Sale said. “We’ve had a tough stretch and I was sweating bullets all day thinking about it. We played a bunch of tight ones and they fell through, so it’s nice to see us come out strong. It was a seven-point-game at half and they cut it to five in the third quarter. We grinded and grinded. We took what was given to us and pushed it to 15-16.”
The Lady Panthers relied on a stifling defense and balanced offense to pull away from the Lady Trojans.
Putnam County’s defensive game plan revolved around limiting Dwight junior Kayla Kodat, who came in averaging 18 points per game.
The Lady Panthers held her to seven points on 3-of-13 shooting.
“We play the same old zone then we just tweak things the way we feel we need to with what somebody is throwing at us,” Sale said. “We knew the offense pretty much revolved around (Kodat), so we dared everybody else to shoot and knock down shots. They didn’t do that, so it made things easier. If they had come out and knocked down two or three 3s early, we would have had to make an adjustment.
“We really focused on (Kodat). We had to make sure when she was cutting through the zone we knew exactly where she was and we had to pick her up early and often out of that. We did that. We got her stopped in transition. The game plan was executed well.”
Offensively, the Lady Panthers spread the ball around and scored inside and outside.
PC forwards Molly Boyd and Sophie Harris scored 10 points each with Harris grabbing 10 rebounds and Boyd corralling seven boards.
Guards Caitlyn Cioni and Avery Lamis added eight points each for PC, which led 19-12 at halftime before pushing the lead to as many as 18 points in the fourth quarter.
“We don’t have one shooter who is going to go out there and get them all, so we really have to pass the ball around and look to see who is open,” Boyd said. “Sometimes they’ll put two people on Sophie or one down on the block on some of our plays, so it’s important to pass the ball out or make a smart decision when it comes to that.”
The Lady Bruins stumbled out of the gates Tuesday as they turned the ball over on three of their first four possessions and fell behind 7-2.
Leah Smudzinski turned things around for St. Bede
The sophomore drove the baseline for a basket with 1:12 left in the first quarter then drained a 3-pointer and scored another basket on a third straight trip down the floor.
“I thought Leah Smudzinski was outstanding,” McGunnigal said. “She got us going with the scoring. We were struggling a little bit at the beginning. She hit a shot and we started to role from there.”
Renn Ludford capped a 10-0 surge to close the first quarter with a three-point play with 5.3 seconds left.
“Once we get one, it keeps coming,” Ludford said. “The momentum and energy really brings it all together and really keeps you motivated.”
The Lady Bruins started to pull away in the second quarter with pressure defense and another strong closing run.
St. Bede pestered the Lady Timberwolves into 11 turnovers in the second quarter and 32 for the game.
“We were in our spots,” McGunnigal said. “We saw they have a tendency to throw the ball long. They can bring the ball up the floor pretty quick. They have very good ball handlers and shooters we were worried about. We tried to speed them up a little bit. We stayed in position. That’s the key thing. The girls executed and were where they needed to be. That’s what you want this time of year.”
The Lady Bruins scored 11 points in the final 1:48 of the half — on a basket by Lia Bosnich, a three-point play by Christine Senica and a pair of 3s by Ludford — to surge ahead 31-14.
“We executed everything very well,” Ludford said. “This is probably one of our best games. We covered the backside. We had smart shots and smart passes. We put it all together for this game.”
Ludford led St. Bede with 13 points, while Smudzinski, Senica and Bosnich added nine points each.
Kevin Chlum can be reached at 220-6939, or at kchlum@shawmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsEditor.

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