DECATUR — The path from the St. Teresa bench to the scorers table and from the table to the floor was well-traveled.
The Bulldogs rotated players in and out at high rates, using their depth to beat Mount Pulaski on the way to a 70-50 win in the Class 1A Decatur (St. Teresa) Regional championship game on Thursday.
Eight different players scored for St. Teresa, led by DaeLin Switzer's double-double of 17 points and 11 rebounds while anchoring the defense with six steals while Addison Fyke and Kenzie Snow each added 10 points.
“Everyone – bench or non-bench – they can play at equal levels and it's an equal team and we all have equal talents and we all work together really well," Switzer said.
But the Mount Pulaski (15-14) offense gave the Bulldogs everything they wanted, leading 21-20 after the first quarter behind 14 first-quarter points from Skylar Hayes who finished with a game-high 25 points.
Then the fresh legs and a switch from a full-court defense to a half-court defense allowed St. Teresa (22-6) to go on an 18-0 run in just over six minutes to break the game open.
The Bulldogs hounded the ball, forcing turnovers and racing out in transition.
Snow scored eight of her 10 points during the stretch.
“I saw that we were in the middle of the game and all, but when I had the chance to take the shot, I went in and took it," Snow said.
“When I hit those first few shots I started to feel it and I kept going and going as far as I could."
The push has been typical of Snow's production this season.
“She's a big-time shooter for us and she's starting to get the defense part down a little more as the season has gone on," St. Teresa coach Ashley VanEtten said. "She's definitely a spark off the bench."
By the end of the run St. Teresa led 38-21 with 1:57 left in the first half.
“We have about seven, eight, sometimes nine people we could start any given night," VanEtten said. "It's nice to have those people coming off the bench. The whole tempo of the game changes because we get fresh legs, fresh lungs and breathers for everybody because everybody can rotate in. They don't always like that, but they can see how much it benefits them."
Conversely, five players scored for Mount Pulaski, four of them were starters.
“We've got some kids who are going 32 minutes a night and when they're going every three or four minutes bringing four or five kids and keeping those fresh legs, that's huge," Mount Pulaski coach Eric Leever said. "They go deep on the bench and awesome for them."
After playing the first quarter according to script, Leever couldn't pinpoint exactly what happened that led to the St. Teresa run.
“I don't know why we got so rattled there in the second quarter," he said of his team, which had 11 of its 28 turnovers in the second quarter. "We played a great first quarter; the intensity was there, the transition was there then we had four possessions in a row where we threw the ball away, then they came down and scored four or five times in a row. It was a huge momentum swing on their part."
Some of it was the switch from full-court to half-court defense that stopped the Hilltoppers from getting out and running.
“I was kind of hoping they would continue to press and we would be able to get buckets in the backcourt like we did in the first quarter," Leever said.
Switzer may have found her lucky charm before the game with a sushi dinner, which she said gave her energy before the game.
She's a busy junior before basketball games. On Thursday, she delivered a rendition of the national anthem prior to tip-off.
After the game, she snagged the microphone and delivered a succinct, 'Go St. T.'
Cleaning up the glass
St. Teresa outrebounded Mount Pulaski on Thursday, something VanEtten knows is a strength for her team; while Leever knows rebounding is a shortcoming of his own.
“When they decide to box out and go get the ball, there aren't too many teams out there that should ever win the rebound battle.," VanEtten said.
In addition to her five points, Claire Peters tallied seven rebounds and Addison Newbon hauled in seven rebounds of her own to add to her nine points.
The Bulldogs won the rebounding battle 40-32.
Getting the free ones
St. Teresa missed 22 free throws, something the Bulldogs have to clean up in order to beat Danville Schlarman in the Colfax Ridgeview Sectional at 7:30 p.m. Monday.
Skylar Hayes was a force on Thursday.
She scored half of the Hilltoppers' points, with 14 coming in the first quarter.
Hayes careened to the hoop for layups, hit free throws and drilled 3-pointers.
"She had a good game individually and did a lot for her team," VanEtten said. "We could have done a little bit better of a job containing her. We would much rather have somebody else hurt us than her, but good for her. We lost her a time or two. We got comfortable with her at the free-throw line, then when she wasn't at the free-throw line and she moved around on the court, we lost track of her and that hurt a little bit."