BONNE TERRE – Lone senior Jennifer Humbolt and the Ste. Genevieve girls basketball team hope that they have more history to achieve before this season concludes.
After clinching the first regular-season conference championship for the program a few weeks ago, the Dragons stand at the precipice of ending a 40-year district title drought.
Ste. Genevieve produced a series of timely defensive stops and rebounds down the stretch, and ousted reigning Class 4, District 2 champion North County 50-43 in a semifinal contest on Monday night.
“At the end when the game was getting tight, everybody was getting kind of nervous and maybe a little too aggressive,” Humbolt said. “I’m just glad that we pulled through and I get to play another game.”
Sophomore guard Maci Reynolds shared game-high honors with 21 points, and made 6-of-8 free throws over the final 1:27 to secure the victory.
Ste. Genevieve (21-5) advanced to face top-seeded Central in the 6 p.m. final on Thursday. The Dragons won the only previous matchup between the teams on Jan. 17.
Sophomore guard Ella Gant connected three times from 3-point range before halftime, and dropped in 21 points while leading North County (18-8) for a second straight outing.
Standout forward Kayleigh Winch spent about five minutes on the bench after being assessed her fourth foul with the Lady Raiders leading 29-26.
Ste. Genevieve capitalized with a 9-2 run over the remaining 2:34 of the third quarter, and limited Winch to a single made field goal by blanketing her with a committee of defenders.
“You have to know where she is at all times. She’s that good of a player,” Ste. Genevieve coach Jordanna Walk-Robison said. “We did an outstanding job against her the last couple of times, and were able to do even better tonight.”
Reynolds made a go-ahead layup off a steal and outlet pass from Sydney Bumgardaner, then drained a 3-pointer for a 35-31 margin after Humbolt muscled in a putback through contact.
North County received two jumpers from Michaela Mason plus two field goals by fellow senior Alyssa Huber in the fourth quarter. But the Dragons had an answer each time.
Humbolt, who provided nine points and seven rebounds, promptly attacked an open seam for a driving layup at 41-37 after Gant followed her own miss at the opposite end.
“We knew that [Winch] had four fouls and talked about what we needed to do,” Humbolt said. “Coach told us to take an open layup if we had one, and I saw my opportunity to go around her.”
Huber appeared to jam an ankle while slipping down as Bumgardaner easily scored at the doorstep, but finished an inside shot on the next possession to make it 44-41 with 2:07 left.
The Dragons suffered their second straight turnover on a carry by Reynolds, but she put the game away from the line while North County missed seven of its last eight shots from the field.
Bumgardaner avoided picking up a fifth foul after returning from a short rest in the noticeably physical battle, and compiled 15 points and 11 rebounds for Ste. Genevieve.
“We weathered the storm a couple of times, especially when we were down in the first half,” Walk-Robison said. “Composure played a big part in that. Even when we were up, we still looked to score, and then made some free throws at the end.”
Gant initially spurred the Lady Raiders with 10 first-quarter points, including a deep 3-pointer at the buzzer. Her next triple pushed the margin to 17-10.
Marysa Flieg responded by stripping a rebound away for a quick layup, and Reynolds brought Ste. Gen. even with a pair of 3-pointers later in the second quarter.
“Our coach has done so much,” Humbolt said. “It’s not just the players putting in the hard work. She is doing just as much. And I love that our younger players can pick each other up.”
Ella Reed and Emily Veach traded free throws, resulting in a 20-20 halftime tie. North County regained the lead temporarily when Izzy Wruck dished past two defenders to Winch in the lane.
Huber and Mason each had six points for the Lady Raiders. Wruck pulled down six rebounds.
Although the Dragons claimed their only girls basketball district banner in 1979, several members of the current roster have contributed to multiple volleyball titles in pressure .
They will need to draw from that experience against a Central squad that is similar in age and depth, but known for is recent postseason success.