Right now, it’s all about the banner for the Nashville Hornettes.
The banner they earned by defeating the Althoff Crusaders 49-40 in Thursday night’s championship game of the Class 2A Red Bud Sectional.
With the win, the Hornettes advance to the Elite Eight along with the right to raise a banner above their home floor inside Assembly Hall in Nashville.
“This is crazy, we’re getting a banner in Assembly Hall,” exclaimed Nashville senior guard Libby Ahlers, who led all scorers with 19 points. “This is the farthest I have been in any sport. This is absolutely amazing to me.”
Up next for Nashville (23-9), a date with Teutopolis in the Salem Super-Sectional at 7:30 p.m. on Monday. The Lady Shoes advanced with a 53-31 win over Sullivan in the Tuscola Sectional title game.
“I had not even thought about that,” said Nashville coach Doug Althoff, whose school last went to the state tournament in 2013 when it won the Class 2A state title. “We’ll definitely be putting one up there. That’s a pretty big deal in Nashville.”
The difference in the game was a third quarter where the Hornettes blitzed the Crusaders to the tune of 14-2, turning a 23-22 halftime deficit into a 36-25 lead going into the final eight minutes.
Ahlers and Rylee Luchtefeld fueled the third-quarter surge at the offensive end with six points apiece. Ahlers drained a pair of 3s, while the 6-foot Luchtefeld asserted herself inside with three baskets.
“We probably should have been down more (at halftime), we had like nine turnovers,” said Luchtefeld. “And I think we had one in the third, which was a big difference. Coach told us at halftime ‘we’re still in this.’ We just had to go out and play like it.”
Althoff never got closer than seven in the fourth quarter, as Nashville utilized a nine-of-14 effort at the free-throw line to help keep the Crusaders at bay.
“They hit quite a few shots and the momentum got going their way,” said second-year Althoff coach Brianna Ankenbrandt of the third quarter. “They are a heck of a team and we just didn’t have an answer then and there.”
The Crusaders’ only basket of the quarter came from Karinna Gall, 2 minutes and 5 seconds into the period. It would be more than six-and-a half minutes before they scored again.
The loss snapped a six-game winning streak for Althoff, which bows out at 21-10. Anya Davis topped the Crusaders with 11 points. Gall finished with nine.
Ankenbrandt liked the improvement she saw from her team, which had gone 15-14 in her initial season. The regional title they won last week was the Crusaders first since 2010.
Althoff should return all but two players next season, with only its starting backcourt of twin sisters Gabby and Tiffani Siekmanm scheduled to graduate.
“We knew we were a team that had a lot of potential,” said Ankenbrandt summing up her team’s season. “We did everything we could to put them into position where they could be successful, and they took it and ran with it.
“I am beyond proud of them, what they accomplished this season.”
Luchtefeld joined Ahlers in double-figure scoring with 13 points. Freshman Alyssa Cole had 11 points to go with a team-high seven rebounds.