Eagles win Candy Cane Classic

Tournament MVP Erika Varel of Columbia runs a play against Red Bud defender Taylor Fithian. For more photos from the tournament, visit the RepublicTimes.net Media Store. (Teryn Schaefer photo)

“We are having fun now aren’t we ladies?” Columbia girls basketball coach Scott Germain asked his team during a time-out in the Gibault Candy Cane Classic championship game this weekend.

“It brought a smile to their face,” said Germain. “Our girls play a little scared sometimes and we tell them to try to have fun no matter what’s going on.”

By that point, though, the game against Red Bud was in their favor. The championship trophy was just minutes away for the Eagles, who went on to win 51-39.

The last time these two teams met, however, the game ended in Red Bud’s favor.

“Offensively we played a lot better today. We couldn’t run an offense to save our life last time (against Red Bud), our defense was not very good,” said tournament MVP and Eagles guard/forward Erika Varel. “We just played well as a team this time.”

“One of our goals was to limit Savannah Wittenbrink’s touches in the first half. We did not,” Red Bud coach Janelle Pfeiffer said, with her team giving up 20 points and 10 rebounds to Wittenbrink. “We did not finish the first half, we did not box out the first half and those were two of the things I thought were keys to this game. Basically we dug ourselves such a hole that it was hard to get back out of it.”

The Eagles were up 22-13 at half time and came out and switched up the game plan on the Musketeers, wanting to keep the game in their favor, remembering last time’s outcome.

“(Ali) Ringering was guarding Calli (Germain), so whoever she was guarding we were trying to keep off of the ball,” Germain said, explaining why Varel was now bringing the ball down the court on offense in- stead of Eagles point guard Calli Germain, who had five assists and three steals on the day. “That was just a little adjustment we made at half time. We just want to keep (Ringering) as far away from the ball as possible because she is a good player.”

This adjustment came with ease for Varel, who led the team with 23 points, five rebounds and three steals against the Musketeers. “I feel comfortable with it. I was more athletic than the girl that was guarding me because she is usually a post player, so it was easier.”

This mismatch, along with the “injury bug,” causing the Musketeers to sit three of its players, took a toll on Red Bud. Coach Pfeiffer said they had an idea that maybe Germain would switch up the offense.

“We kind of knew that was going to happen and unfortunately we are mismatched there. With them having the lead we could never go back to a zone and try to change things up.”

This game was not only for the tournament championship, but a battle of conference foes. Columbia (9-3, 3-2 in the Cahokia Conference) is tied for second with Carlyle in the Mississippi Division, while Red Bud (6-5, 1-3) is just behind the Eagles tied for third with Freeburg. Breese Central (10-1, 5-0) currently leads the division.

After losing four games in a row, including the first round game of its own Candy Cane Classic, Gibault defeated Windsor to face Roxana in the consolation championship. A team that defeated the Hawks in last year’s tournament.

But the Lady Hawks did not let history repeat itself this time.

“I thought we played a very balanced, well played game today by everybody,” Gibault coach Jill Puckett said.

The Hawks (5-6) went on to defeat the Shells (7-5), 48-37, mixing up their game plan as well.

“We had an injury (against Windsor), Courtney Schutt, and put in a sophomore and she to- tally stepped up,” Puckett said, describing forward Megan Branz. “She is so calm and collected. Sometimes people don’t think she is playing intense but she doesn’t have to change her emotions to play intense. She is just very calm.”

“She definitely stepped up and played very, very well this game and helped us out.”

Branz had eight points on the day and led her team with seven rebounds. All-Tournament Team member Kendra Davis led the Hawks with 18 points against Roxana and had six re- bounds and five steals. Kelly Kapp had eight points.

“We are just going to be happy with how we finished because we started off slow in this tournament,” Puckett said. “We were not happy with how that went but at least we finished strong.”

Waterloo also had a successful run in the Candy Cane Classic, defeating Gibault in the first round, losing to the tournament champions in the second round, and then winning the tournament’s third place game.

The Bulldogs (4-6, 1-3 in the Mississippi Valley Conference) defeated Cahokia (3-6) in a “barn burner,” 44-37 on Saturday.

Cahokia led Waterloo after the third quarter, 31-28. But the Bulldogs would go on to out-score the Comanches by 10 points in the final quarter.

Erica Nevois, who was named to the All-Tournament team, led the Bulldogs with 18 points and two assists. Her teammate Hope Elliot had 14 points and two steals, while Mia Reed, who faced a size disadvantage in the post, had five points and 14 rebounds.

Candy Cane Classic All-Tournament Team:

Kendra Davis (Gibault), Teykia Cooper (Cahokia), Erica Nevois (Waterloo), Ali Ringering (Red Bud), Savannah Wittenbrink (Columbia) and tournament MVP Erika Varel (Columbia).

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