ELKHART — Culver Community girls basketball skipper Tony Scheub’s voice cracked, partly from emotion, partly, no doubt, from guiding his team through a memorable tournament run.
With that diminishing voice, he relayed a powerful message to his squad following its 47-43 semistate loss to Class 2A No. 1 Fort Wayne Luers at Elkhart’s North Side Gymnasium Saturday.
“I told them I wanted them to walk out of here with their heads up,” the first-year coach said. “They’re the first team in school history to play in a semistate. The community supports them. I told the kids when we got here to take it all in, and I did the same thing, because you may never experience anything like this again. I can’t say thanks enough for letting me come along for the ride. I know why I came here.”
Senior Gwen Zehner, Culver’s 6-foot-1 standout forward, certainly held her head high.
“It has been so much fun,” she said. “I can’t believe we’ve come this far. I looked at the other end of the gym, and the No. 1 team in the state has four people in their following, then I looked at our crowd, and I think our whole school was here. Our fans have been unbelievable. We did the best we could.”
The sixth-ranked Cavaliers looked on track to earn the school’s first team state finals appearance in any sport until a 12-2 fourth-quarter Luers run converted a 36-33 Culver lead with 6:49 left in the game into a 45-38 Knights advantage at the 1:18 mark.
Senior guard Brierra Young scored nine of her game-high 18 points during the fourth quarter, including the go-ahead baseline drive and bucket to put the Knights up 37-36 with 5:54 to go as well as a 5-of-6 mark from the charity stripe in the final 1:29.
Also for Luers, senior forward Hilary Watts landed perhaps the biggest punch with a conventional 3-point play on a drive down the right baseline to put the Knights on top 42-38 with 2:32 to play. Luers maintained a multiple-possession edge the rest of the way.
“The key basket of the game was probably the play that Hilly got,” Luers head coach Denny Renier said. “Our guard play was the difference down the stretch. Bri is just awesome. She’s an 80 percent free-throw shooter, and she hit some big ones.”
“Our kids have found a way to win all year,” he added. “They’re not afraid of tough games; I think that’s what carried us.”
Meanwhile, Culver, which went just one deep off the bench, struggled against Luers’ full-court press down the stretch. The deeper Knights forced six fourth-quarter turnovers and held the Cavs to 3 of 13 from the field during the same span.
“When we got out of executing our stuff we had problems,” Scheub said. “(Watts’) play put us down two possessions, and we’re not a very good team when we have to play from behind.”
Luers actually threatened to blow the game open early. Boosted by a 15-6 first-quarter advantage on the boards, the Knights opened a 17-9 lead at the quarter break.
The Cavs, though, responded with a 12-2 run to reclaim the lead. With Luers showing a few possessions of 2-3 zone, senior Alison Zehner powered the spurt with two of her trio of first-half treys — each from the left wing — and senior guard Nicole Carnegie collected a steal and bucket to give Culver a 23-21 lead.
“When we came here to practice (Alison Zehner) was lighting it up, and that made me excited about this game watching her practice,” Scheub said. “I’m not surprised to see her hit like that.”
Alison Zehner scored a team-best 13 points for Culver and chipped in a pair of assists and steals apiece.
On the glass, 6-3 senior center Patrice McBee stabilized the rebounding war in the second quarter and dominated in the second half for Culver, finishing the day with 11 points and a game-best 17 caroms.
“We worked all week on rebounding,” Scheub said. “We tell our post players that they’ve got to get nasty, and they weren’t getting nasty. In the second half, they did. I love watching Patrice McBee rebound; she can get up there with anybody. I’m going to miss watching her rebound.”
In the interior, the Gwen Zehner-McBee duo combined with Luers’ own tall tandem of 6-1 Miracle Woods and 5-11 Brooke Ridley to put on quite an entertaining show. Gwen Zehner overcame fou1 trouble and complemented McBee with nine points, six boards and two blocked shots. Woods wound up with nine points, 14 rebounds and four blocked shots, while Ridley put up five points and nine boards.
“(Culver) just did a marvelous job in the post,” Renier said. “I think they defended us well. Give credit to their kids; they did a nice job on us.”
Culver now bids farewell to the Zehners, McBee, Carnegie and Whitney Sanders — all four-year players.
“For the senior class to take me in like they did, I can’t thank them enough,” Scheub said. “The community support has been great. The reason I wanted to coach in a small community is because of the support.”
• CLASS 2A SEMISTATE
FORT WAYNE LUERS 47,
CULVER COMMUNITY 43
Score by quarters
Luers: 17 23 31 47
Culver: 9 25 32 43
LUERS (47): Brooke Ridley 2 1-2 5, Catherine Barnett 1 1-2 3, Addie Reimbold 0 0-0 0, Brierra Young 4 10-12 18, Hilary Watts 3 3-4 9, Miracle Woods 3 2-7 8, Morgan Skordos 2 0-0 4, Allison Butler 0 0-0 0. TOTALS: 15 17-27 47.
CULVER (43): Nicole Carnegie 3 1-2 7, Patrice McBee 4 3-6 11, Whitney Sanders 0 0-0 0, Alison Zehner 5 0-0 13, Kayla Shaffer 1 1-2 3, Gwen Zehner 4 1-4 9. TOTALS: 17 6-14 43.
3-point goals: Luers none, Culver 3 (A. Zehner); Turnovers: Luers 18, Culver 17; Rebounds: Luers 39 (Woods 14), Culver 35 (McBee 17); Assists: Luers 5 (Young 3), Culver 9 (Carnegie, Sanders, A. Zehner 2); Steals: Luers 7 (Woods 2), Culver 4 (A. Zehner 2); Fouls (fouled out): Luers 11 (none), Culver 20 (Sanders); Records: Luers 23-2, Culver 25-2 (final).