As cameras flashed and shutters went off, the No. 11 Ellison girls basketball team looked more like celebrities posing on the red carpet then a sweaty heap of bodies exhausted after a nearly two-hour game.
That’s because, for the night, they were.
“Seeing them there like celebrities, everybody was taking their pictures, and that made me proud because those kids just deserve it,” Ellison head coach Sherry McKinnon said. “They’ve done all of the things we needed them to do, and now for them to receive some recognition from a lot of people, that was a proud moment for me.”
Despite not having a single Division I talent to speak of, and their starting point guard sitting on the bench much of the fourth quarter, the Lady Eagles secured the outright District 8-5A championship — it’s the second district title in three years — with a 67-38 blowout of Shoemaker in the
regular-season finale Tuesday.
“It’s very emotional. Once you think about it, since it is our last (regular) season game, but going out with a big bang, and in style, feels great,” said senior guard Kenesha Saygo, who led all scorers with 14 points — 11 coming in the first half — despite drawing her fifth foul 1½ minutes into the fourth quarter.
The win was Ellison’s 15th consecutive victory and set the program’s single-season win record at 31, breaking the previous 30-win mark set by the 2010-11 squad, the Lady Eagles’ last district championship team.
“Because of their tenacity and their hard work, the sacrifices they made in the off season, and them believing in each other, believing in the coaching staff, they go out and make history tonight,” McKinnon said.
“It’s a good feeling to be district champs again.”
Ten of the Lady Eagles’ 11 players scored, with six players recording at least eight points, including 11 from backup guard Francesca Patrick, 10 from senior Codi Simmons and nine apiece from seniors Deja Pointer and Kaitlyn Shearer. Shoemaker (10-20, 4-10) was led offensively by senior post Cion Hicks, who finished with 13 points — on 9-of- 15 from the free-throw line — and eight rebounds.
“It’s a really big (difference) when you have chemistry and when you’re trying to build it, and with our kids, ... I’m proud of them. No we didn’t have a signature season, but we had a far better season than anybody anticipated,” Shead said.
But it was on defense where the Lady Eagles (31-3, 13-1 8-5A) made their mark, as Pointer, Saygo and Simmons each racked up three steals and the 6-1 Shearer recorded four blocks as Shoemaker shot just 9-of-40 (22.5 percent) from the field, including 2-of-14 in the first half.
“(McKinnon) made us this way, and she always stresses that defense creates your offense, so that’s what we came out here and did,” Saygo said.
That defense caused Shoemaker fits early as 11 first-quarter turnovers allowed Ellison to turn an early 6-0 advantage into a 14-4 lead by the end of the opening frame, including seven points coming and three steals coming courtesy of Saygo.
The rout was on in the second quarter as the Lady Eagles as a coast-to-coast score by Saygo sparked Ellison on an 15-4 run over the first 5½ minutes, capped by six straight points from Patrick and a layup by reserve Arriyanna Forch to go ahead 29-8 with 2:21 remaining in the first half. Ellison pulled up by as much as 30 (51-21) as it closed out the final 4:20 of the third quarter on a 14-3 run.
It was a tightly officiated game as both teams combined for 59 fouls and 86 free-throw tries. Ellison had seven players with at least three fouls and three with four while the Lady Grey Wolves had six players tally at least three fouls and two that fouled out.
“It’s not how you start, it’s all about how you finish and for us to finish it off tonight, knowing that no matter what we were going to be the district champs, but the girls didn’t want that, nor did I,” McKinnon said. “And I felt like they really took care of business.”