NORMAL – Stockton reached the finish line of a historic girls basketball season Saturday at Redbird Arena.
The Blackhawks may not have been the first to cross to a state championship finish, but what the girls will remember most will be the journey that got them there.
Stockton’s season ended in the 1A state championship game with a 53-31 loss to Danville Schlarman, but no Blackhawks’ girls basketball team had advanced as far as this year’s team did.
The runner-up finish leaves Stockton a championship short of a complete set of state trophies. Terry Korth coached the Blackhawks to a third-place finish in 2001, and Bob Wyssman coached them to a fourth-place finish in 1993.
“Getting here, we didn’t think we could. We did, and we were like, ‘Okay, let’s do it,’” Blackhawks senior center Emily Offenheiser said. “We wanted to end on a high note. It didn’t end as we wanted it to, but we’re just happy to be here.”
Turnovers doomed the Blackhawks (32-3) early, as they turned the ball over on each of their first four possessions. After the third turnover, Schlarman was up 6-0 and didn’t look back.
Stockton trailed 18-7 at the end of the first quarter, and 20-7 after a inside jumper by Schlarman’s Janiah Newell. Offenheiser and freshman Tiana Timpe followed that with a five-point run; Offenheiser made a jumper from inside, and Timpe drained a 3 from the right elbow off a pass from Aspyn Stewart to knock the Schlarman lead to single-digits at 20-12.
The run turned out to be short-lived. The turnover bug hit the Blackhawks once more, and Schlarman capitalized to lead 30-16 at halftime.
Stockton finished the second half with 12 turnovers, and added 10 more turnovers in the third quarter as Schlarman ran away.
Offenheiser led the Blackhawks with 12 points and five rebounds.
“We just dribbled the ball too much,” Stockton coach Tim Timpe said. “We talked about having to pass and not dribble through them. We kept dribbling, dribbling, dribbling, and you can’t do that against a good, fast team.”
Stockton made history Friday with a 58-43 semifinal win over Okaw Valley. Offenheiser and Timpe each had a double-double; Offenheiser score 16 points and pulled down 17 rebounds, and Timpe scored 16 points and pulled down 10 boards. Elizabeth Eisfeller added 10 points.
Okaw Valley was led by senior guard Paige Robinson and her 32 points, but while she was tough for the Blackhawks to stop, they stopped enough of her game to move on.
“We knew that Okaw Valley had that really good No. 3 [Paige Robinson],” Offenheiser said. “We really tried to focus on stopping her. We did an OK job – obviously we won – but we really wanted to make school history because no one had made it to the championship round, and we kept thinking that as we were playing that game. It was all heart from there.”
Offenheiser and Stewart are seniors, as well as Megan Gille and Kali Haas. Timpe, a freshman, and Eisfeller, a sophomore, ranked among the Blackhawks’ top five scorers.
Eastland and East Dubuque were the only two teams to beat the Blackhawks until Saturday. Stockton played three games with the Cougars, and won two of three. They won tournaments at Forreston and Erie during the season, and it was only after the Erie tournament in December did some players think that something special might be happening.
“We knew we’d be good, and then we started beating teams that we had never beaten before,” Offenheiser said, “and we started winning tournaments we’d never won before, against bigger and better schools.”
“After that, we got confidence and we knew that we could come down here,” added Stewart, a co-captain.
Stockton advanced to state Feb. 19 with a 67-64 win over Harvest Christian of Elgin at the Belvidere Supersectional. Timpe led the Blackhawks with 26 points.
“We thought we were good about the middle of the season and we could make a run, but these girls have just given me everything since the start of the season,” Tim Timpe said, trying to hold back tears after the team received the second-place trophy Saturday. “I can’t say enough about them. These four seniors wanted this so bad to get down here, and I’m just super happy for all of them.”
• The officiating in the 1A championship game had a regional feel to it. Dave Baisden of Savanna was the head official. John Koester of Freeport and Fulton alum Dave Criss, of Sugar Grove, were the other two officials.
• Tiana Timpe fell one shot short of making the final tiebreaker round of the Country Financial Three-point Showdown on Thursday at Redbird Arena. Timpe made seven shots, but five shooters led the 1A field with eight.
Milledgeville senior Mady Frederick also competed, making four shots.