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Altamont takes down Decatur St. Teresa to win first regional championship in four years

Feb. 16—DIETERICH — Playing for tomorrow's practice.

That's a line that Altamont head girls basketball coach Craig Carr uttered following the Lady Indians' thrilling 52-44 victory over Decatur (St. Teresa) in the Class 1A Dieterich Regional Finals at Dieterich High School on Thursday night.

He didn't want this night to be this senior's class's last, either.

"The last thing I wanted for these seniors was a loss tonight. They deserved to win this game," Carr said.

A four-player class of Nelson, Claire Boehm, Peyton Osteen, and Brianna Grunloh have been the linchpins behind a 20-win season and regular season conference championship for Altamont.

And when the horn sounded on Thursday night, that same class was also the linchpins behind the first regional championship in four years, as well.

Osteen said, "It means everything. This is something we've worked so hard for. We knew whenever we came into high school from eighth grade and had those runs in junior high with the same group, we knew what we were capable of, and this is what we've just put all our work towards, and I'm glad we got it."

Nelson added, "We've had a rough three years, and this year, had a bump on Senior Night with my knee, but coming back and being able to play meant so much to me."

Nelson suffered that injury in the second half against Paris last week. She did not return to that contest, and the future was unclear afterward.

She rebounded well once an MRI scan found no damage, though.

Nelson scored 35 points in a regional semifinal against Neoga on Monday night. She dropped a whopping 40 points — and all 18 of her team's fourth-quarter hoops — in the title contest.

"I tend to feel pretty comfortable if we're anywhere near the other team at the end of the game because I know these girls are going to make plays when it counts, especially No. 23," Carr said. "She just has a knack for getting it done when it has to get done."

Altamont led 15-9 after the first quarter and 22-18 at halftime.

Lucy Corley opened the scoring for the Bulldogs with a layup.

The Lady Indians then went on an 8-0 run. Nelson hit a pair of free throws and made two layups, and Osteen made a pair from the line during that surge.

Jalie Eller ended the run with a layup.

Nelson then hit a layup with 2:06 left to extend the Altamont lead to four points, 10-6. She followed that by knocking down a three-pointer with 1:07 remaining after St. Teresa cut the lead to two.

Grunloh then rebounded a missed Boehm three and took it up strong to make the score after the first.

Grunloh would then open the second period with a three-pointer to push the lead to nine points.

Nelson followed with a pair of free throws and a layup to make it a double-digit contest, 22-11.

The Bulldogs ended the period on a 7-0 run, though, to make the halftime tally. The run was highlighted by a Natalie Shaw three-pointer and a Corley layup.

Carr noted his team's struggles on the glass in the first half as one reason to why they couldn't expand the lead further.

That ship was righted in the second half, though.

"We did a lot better in the second half," Carr said. "We got destroyed on the offensive glass in the first half. Rachel Hammer, our assistant, keeps track of the offensive boards. She let them know at halftime how many we had given up, how many points they got off offensive boards, and we did better in the second half. They got challenged at halftime to rebound the ball better."

What was also a challenge for the Lady Indians was defending Corley.

Corley finished with 18 points. She had 10 in the third.

"We were struggling to stop (Corley)," Nelson said. "We knew the game plan coming in was to stop her. She's a good player and shot a lot against Dieterich, but tonight, she was driving — I don't think she hit a three the whole night — and I was like, 'We have to stop her.' So, in that fourth quarter, I was like, 'I'll take her and I'll stay in front of her.'"

Corley finished with just three points in the fourth frame.

Altamont only allowed eight points in that same stanza. The Lady Indians had three such quarters where they allowed 10 points or fewer.

"We switched tonight. We didn't put one kid on their best player," Carr said. "We had four kids rotate onto their best player, and that's because we got at least four kids that can guard."

One such individual is Boehm.

Boehm didn't score one point in the game. She instead made her presence felt on the defensive end of the court.

"He really wanted help on (Corley)," said Boehm on what Carr's game plan was. "She drove a lot, so he just always wanted us to be in help on her, and my role was to take charges."

Nelson was another key defender.

The Illinois State recruit came up with a momentum-shifting play when her team fell behind in the fourth.

St. Teresa led by four points, 42-38, in the fourth quarter.

The game switched after Nelson made a pair of free throws and then poked the ball away from Corley before converting a three-point play.

"When I just poked it out, I was trying to go as hard as I can and get up as high as I can to the rim," Nelson said. "I honestly didn't see her coming until I saw her arm get me. It was just a big game changer."

Altamont led 43-42 after that five-point swing and never looked back, only allowing two more points the rest of the way.

Nelson and Osteen shared a special moment after the horn blared over the Dieterich gymnasium, and a raucous crowd of Altamont fans celebrated.

"It's special getting to grow up with her and watch the player she's become," Osteen said. "It's special to share this moment with her."

Carr and athletic director and former head coach Katie Lurkins shared a similar moment.

At the same time, the first-year Altamont head coach also knows there is still more to be accomplished. He is hoping that this won't be the last joyful feeling he gets with this group.

The Lady Indians will face Tuscola in the sectional semifinals on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. at Central A&M High School in Moweaqua. The winner of that tilt advances to the sectional championship game.

Contact EDN Sports Editor Alex Wallner at 618-510-9231 or alex.wallner@effinghamdailynews.com.