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MTZ girls basketball wins back-to-back regional championships, Anderson gets 2000 career points

BACK TO BACK REGIONAL CHAMPS.  The 2023-2024 Mt. Zion Girls Basketball team holding their regional plaque after winning back-to-back regional championships for the first time since 2003 defeating Champaign Central 67-48. Front row, Serenity Marvel, Nayomi Marvel, Liv Daniels, Ella Fink, Avery Kyburz, Miya Means, Addy Rotz, Chloe Williams and Shoni Anderson. Back row, Head Coach Steve Marvel, Assistant Coach Mikayla Lehman, Savannah Beiler, Ava Anderson, Lyla Stock, Jocelyn Turner, Naomi Schmahl, Denver Anderson, Maddie Kendall, Assistant Coach Jeff Schumate and Assistant Coach Joe Jackson.

By BLAKE FAITH
Staff Writer

Ella Fink her freshman year made big moments happen with her defense to help the Braves win a regional championship last year. In her sophomore year, Fink scored a co-team high 18 points while Central tried to contain Denver Anderson from scoring and scoring her 2000th point (18 points, nine rebounds) and Jocelyn Turner (10 points, eight blocks and eight rebounds). Central failed to do that as Anderson scored her 20001st point on a last-second three-point shot as the Braves won their second-straight regional championship for the first time since 2003.

“It feels pretty good, it’s the first time in 21 years that the program has had back-to-back regional championships,” Head coach Steve Marvel said. “That was our goal coming into the season, we wanted to have 20-plus wins and get a regional championship. We did that here tonight and it was good. I have to give credit to Central. They had a great game plan and played really tough. This feeling is great and I can’t tell you how proud I am of the kids and how well they did. Sticking through some things where we let it get close and they held us together and we had some kids step up and hit some good outside shots for a change.

Coach Marvel continued, “It Was huge for one of our bench kids and we needed a third kid to step up and give us something and for her (Fink) to step up and give us 18, we decided to make an adjustment in the game to go four out, because we felt like that weak side was really open for attacks. And she did a great job of taking advantage of that and finishing and being strong. The fact she came in and did what we wanted her to do was outstanding. Denver’s just Denver. She’s always going to be there. I think she ended up scoring maybe half or a little more half of her in the fourth quarter when it was still a tight game. So that was good. And Jocelyn is a double-double machine night in and night out and almost a triple double with blocks. If you look back last year, Ella (Fink) came in and hadn’t played a whole lot. Varsity as a freshman, came into the championship game last year. It was a huge spark for us there. So, the fact that, and she just had a career night tonight, I’m not gonna lie. It was fantastic.”

Early in the game, it was clear that Central had no intentions of letting Anderson or Turner get any space to score. Each player was constantly double if not triple-teamed. Despite that Turner was able to assist Anderson early for a layup that tied the game 2-2.

Anderson then got Fink going with a layup to tie the game 4-4. Tayten Hunter drilled the three-pointer to put the Maroons up 7-4. Naomi Schmahl then got back-to-back assists finding Anderson and Fink both for Lagos that put the Braves up 10-7.

The Braves ended the quarter on a 9-0 run that put them up 13-7 going into the second quarter. The Braves continued to build on their lead with a Turner layup and then Maddie Kendall and Miya Means nailed a three-pointer each that put the Braves up 22-10. The Braves ended the first half ahead 32-20.

The Maroons got going in the third quarter and cut the lead only to six points after a three-pointer from Alex Parastaran and a pair of free-throws made the score 34-28.

Turner then finished off an assist from Addy Rotz and then Fink made the put-back layup that put the Braves back up 38-28. The Braves ended the third quarter ahead 43-34.

Anderson went into the fourth quarter needing nine points to get her shot at 2000 career points. Anderson scored four quick points that also put the Braves up 50-49. Anderson then found Turner who nailed the right-wing corner three-pointer that put the Braves up 53-42.

With 1:41 left in the game, the Braves ahead 65-48, Coach Marvel called out to get Anderson the ball so she could get to that milestone before heading to the sectional semifinals.

“I just wanted her to get there and I didn’t care where it came from, how it came, so I was trying to get her to go to the lane to maybe get fouled,” Coach Marvel said. “We took a time out, drew up a play, it was gonna work, but they called the ball out of mounds or foul or whatever it was on the sideline there with Maddie. And it is what it is. We got her that milestone and I wanted it outta the way so we could focus on what we need to focus on which is Glenwood or Taylorville.”

The Maroons tried to keep the ball away but a Turner block got the Braves to set up Anderson. Anderson got open and buried not only her only three-pointer of the night but her 2001st point as she also collected her and the Braves’ second straight regional championship.

“I’d say they’re about equal (2000 career points and back-to-back regional championships),” Anderson said. “It’s great that it happened on the same night really, and I loved it. I thought it would be iffy. I mean they were pretty key on stopping me in that game. It was a lot of face guarding, but I mean, I could get the ball and I could get to the basket. I knew that I could score and I mean if it didn’t happen, that was okay. That really wasn’t my goal for tonight. My goal for tonight was to win with the team and if it happened. That was great.”

The Braves will face Chatham Glenwood in the sectional semifinal. If they win, they’ll face the winner of Quincy Notre Dame and Mahomet-Seymour.

“When we played Glenwood, we didn’t have Jocelyn,” Coach Marvel said. “So that was a big difference in a game. She impacts the game on both ends of the court so much. Either way, if we win, it will be a revenge game for us and hopefully we come out on top.”

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