RED BUD — Nashville’s outlook appeared more bleak than the weather Monday night at halftime of its Class 2A girls basketball sectional semifinal with Harrisburg.
Down 22-10 to the Bulldogs, the Hornettes faced a big margin with a style of play that has never been described as fast. Their margin of error seemed smaller than Muggsy Bogues.
But coach Doug Althoff opted for an encouraging message to his team.
“He said we weren’t out of this game,” center Rylee Luechtefeld said. “And we believed him.”
Althoff was right. Nashville stormed back by using its height advantage on offense and its sticky defense, outscoring Harrisburg by a whopping 22 points in the second half for a 44-34 victory.
Luechtefeld and senior guard Libby Ahlers scored 16 points each for the Hornettes (21-10), who will meet Belleville Althoff for the sectional title at 7 p.m. Thursday. The Crusaders trailed Hamilton County by 15 points in the second quarter but rallied for a 62-57 victory.
The Bulldogs finished their season at 28-6, victimized by a stunning turnaround after rolling to a 22-8 lead midway through the second quarter behind the great shooting of Brooke Meylor. The 5-6 senior drilled three 3-pointers and scored 11 points, her last 3-ball occurring with 4:33 left in the first half.
Even after failing to score for the half’s remainder, Harrisburg looked like it was in good shape. Its 2-3 zone stifled the dribble penetration that Nashville lives off, and it was sinking 47.4 percent of its field goals.
“I thought we let them get a little too comfortable in the first half,” Doug Althoff said.
To remedy that, Althoff decided to face-guard Meylor, who went from being the game’s star in the first half to managing just one free throw and no field goal attempts in the second half. Secondly, the Hornettes started hitting shots after going 4 for 18 in the first half.
The second half’s first possession served as a precursor of the game’s remainder. Luechtefeld flashed open off a baseline screen, turned into the lane and sank a mid-range jumper. That would become a theme, with occasional variations for layups and bank shots.
Luechtefeld accounted for 12 second half points, including eight in the fourth quarter. For good measure, she added eight rebounds and four blocked shots, helping limit Bulldogs star Karsyn Davis to 3 of 8 shooting and eight points.
“It was really important,” Luechtefeld said of her ability to finish. “I knew they weren’t going to foul me in the post, so I had to take my time and make those shots.”
Nashville took its first lead when Emily Stern converted a layup with 54.6 seconds left in the third. Harrisburg’s only point of the period occurred on Meylor’s free throw with 15.1 seconds remaining, breaking a 12:18 scoreless drought. But Cole’s bucket gave the Hornettes a 25-23 edge going to the fourth quarter.
Luechtefeld and Ahlers brought them home, combining for 15 points. Forced to go to man-to-man as the deficit grew, the Bulldogs couldn’t keep Ahlers out of the lane or stop Luechtefeld around the rim. Nashville sank 14 of 18 shots in the second half, including all seven it tried in the fourth quarter.
“We just had one really bad quarter,” Harrisburg coach Jake Stewart said.
Cole finished with 10 points for the Hornettes, which committed only four turnovers in the second half after coughing up nine in the first half.
In the nightcap, Hamilton County appeared to be in complete control after leading 39-25 at halftime. But Belleville Althoff stormed from behind, unnerving the Foxes (28-4) with fullcourt pressure defense that forced a spate of turnovers.
Mary Wessel’s layup with 47.0 seconds left gave the Crusaders the lead for good, and turnovers on the next two possessions sealed Hamilton County’s fate.
Kolby Brake scored a game-high 18 points for the Foxes, including a layup that nudged them ahead 57-56 with 2:04 remaining. Karinna Gall tallied 17 points for Althoff, the last two coming on free throws with 24.1 seconds left that made it 60-57.