DECATUR — If players on the MacArthur girls basketball team expected their coach, Michael Williams, to walk in the locker room and scream after a 51-37 loss to Springfield High, they were wrong.
Williams knows just how special the last seven or so weeks have been for his team, whose 14-game win streak ended against Springfield in a Central State 8 home game on Thursday.
The message from Williams was different.
“There are a lot of teams around here that would love to be 14-1 in their last 15 games," Williams said. "We’ve just got to regroup now. We were due for one bad game. No one’s going to win forever, unless you’re the UConn ladies back when they had Stewie (Breanna Stewart). We did as much as we could do. We lost to a good team in conference play and they’re well coached."
But the streak mattered to the players, if not for the number, for the significance it carried with them. This group of MacArthur (17-7, 8-4) seniors have never beaten Springfield (18-5, 11-0), and senior Jayda Dees did everything in her power to change that.
She scored a team-high 17 points, but the Generals couldn't get into a rhythm with star sophomore Quincenia Jackson on the bench for large portions of the game in foul trouble.
“We fell apart as a team," Dees said. "We got down and didn’t pick each other up. They saw that and took advantage of it and took a win."
Dees wanted this game, but there's still plenty ahead as the regular season winds down.
“For me, the winning streak meant a lot because freshman and sophomore year we lost every game," Dees said. "To come senior year and be on a winning streak, it meant a lot."
Springfield senior Abby Ratsch led the Senators with a double-double of 11 points and 15 rebounds and the Senators out-rebounded MacArthur 35-16. After falling behind by nine points midway through the first quarter, MacArthur closed the gap to trail by two, 15-13, after the frame.
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Springfield again answered back and led by nine, 31-22, at halftime. MacArthur drew as close as six points midway through a slow third quarter and the Senators opened the fourth on a 10-0 run to create separation.
“We made a couple shots," Springfield coach Brad Scheffler said. "It was a struggle tonight to make shots. Normally we’re able to do that and tonight wasn’t one of those nights. We missed a bunch of free throws. Luckily we made a couple stops and held them under 40 points and that won us the game."
Jackson fouled out, scoring four points, all from the free-throw line.
“It’s tough when we don’t have Q out there," Williams said. "As you can see, she means the world to us. The fact that she got a couple of those cheap fouls early on and a couple other ones, it’s tough playing without here and no one stepped up."
Taya Davis scored eight points for the Generals, and the guard play was a focus Scheffler.
“To be honest, it was more the guards we talked about," Scheffler said. "We didn’t talk about the post. We focused on keeping the guards contained and keeping them up in front. I like our post against anybody. That really wasn’t a concern in the post. It was more about the guards and keeping the ball contained."
Offensively, MacArthur just couldn't get into a rhythm. The Generals shot 26 percent from the field and hit 2 of 17 3-pointers. Springfield, though, shot 32.6 percent from the field and hit 3 of 19 3-pointers.
“I think we were stagnant today," Williams said of his offense. "Some of the other days we’re able to hit some big threes. It seems like when we hit a couple shots we get going. We just could never get into a rhythm. Usually they know they have the buffer if they miss a shot, Q is going to gobble them up and put it back in. With Q being on the sideline sitting, we don’t have anybody who could go in there and put it back in."
MacArthur has established itself as a top team in the conference, along with Springfield and Springfield Sacred-Heart Griffin. No longer can those top teams roll into Decatur and cruise back down Interstate 72 with an easy win under their belt.
“They have good players," Scheffler said. "It’s not a secret. They have a lot of good athletes and good basketball players. They’re organized and know what they’re doing. They have a system now. It’s kind of neat to see. It’s definitely refreshing for the conference to have another good team and to have them playing well."