PREP GIRLS BASKETBALL: Salt Fork falls in sectional title game to Altamont

Feb. 23—MOWEAQUA — Salt Fork senior Macie Russell succinctly summed up Thursday's IHSA Class 1A Moweaqua Central A&M Sectional Championship game against Altamont.

"Sometimes, your shots just don't fall," said Russell after the Storm's season came to an end with a 39-29 loss to Indians, rated No. 9 in the final IHSA Class 1A Poll.

Russell, whose eyes were welling up with tears, added, "I couldn't be more proud of this team and the season we had."

Her father, coach Brian Russell also fought back his emotions, as he talked about Thursday's game.

"These girls played their backsides off, they did everything I asked them to do — it just didn't go our way," Brian said. "The ball just didn't bounce our way tonight."

Both Russells gave the utmost of credit to Altamont (26-6) for a great defensive effort, but admittedly they wondered what might have been if one or two more shots had fallen.

"We really had good looks," Brian said. "We just couldn't get things rolling. A lot of times when you make a shot, it becomes contagious and other players start making shots.

"Tonight, that didn't happen for us. Tip your hat to them and wish them the best."

Macie, who did lead the Storm with 12 points, really thought she could have done more.

"For most of the game, they were leaving me open and I couldn't put it in the hoop," she said.

But unlike Tuesday's sectional semifinal win over Effingham St. Anthony (51-42) where six players score six or more points, in Thursday's loss to Altamont only Russell, Taylor Remole, Alexa Jamison and Brycie Hird were the only players to score for the Storm.

Jamison, the leading scorer this season for Salt Fork, was held scoreless in the first three quarters before finally get 5 points in the fourth quarter.

Altamont 5-foot-11 senior Grace Nelson, who has signed to play at Illinois State next year, had the defensive assignment of guarding Jamison.

And not only did Nelson's size and quickness create problems for the Salt Fork offense, she also scored a game-high 24 points with a number of offensive runouts and she was an impressive 10-of-12 at the free-throw line. Salt Fork, as a team, was just 5-of-8 at the charity stripe.

"That's why she is going to Illinois State," said Brian Russell of the second-team all-state player from last year. "She ended up getting into double figures, but a lot of those were on free throws at the end."

Nelson, who came into Thursday's game averaging 35.3 points in the postseason, had just 13 through three quarters as Altamont led 22-19 heading into the final eight minutes.

"Macie with the help of her team were able to contain her in the first three quarters," Brian Russell said. "I read a quote to the girls before the game from Coach K (Mike Krzyzewski) where he said, 'man-to-man defense is one player guarding the ball and the other four helping.'

"That's exactly what we did tonight. We executed everything that I asked them do do. I just wish the ball would have bounced our way a little bit."

The Storm actually tied the game at 22-22 with 7 minutes, 21 seconds left on a 3-pointer from Remole, a freshman, who came off the bench to score eight points.

But just a few minutes later, Remole hit her head on the floor and she was unable to return for the Storm.

It was one of three injuries sustained by Salt Fork against Altamont. Brycie Hird turned her ankle in the second quarter, while Russell injured her ankle in the fourth quarter. Additionally, both Jamison and Bracie Hird have been dealing with major injuries all season. Jamison made it back from an ACL surgery this summer, while Bracie Hird will undergo surgery in the coming weeks for a torn labrum in her hip.

"All year, this team has had to overcome adversity from injuries," Brian Russell said. "It started with Alexa fighting back from a knee injury and what she has done this season is incredible. And then you have Bracie dealing with her injury all season and all the other tweaks you pick up here and there.

"These girls were fighters and they are competitors. There is no other group of players that I would want to coach. That's how special this group has been to me and our school."

And honestly, the numbers verify his beliefs.

In the past four seasons, Salt Fork is 85-20 overall, a .810 winning percentage. The 28-6 record this season is the most wins in program history. The Storm have also won four straight Vermilion Valley Conference titles, going 44-0 during that stretch and they won three consecutive Vermilion County Tournament championships.

"That means everything to me. I love being a part of this team and being a part of it for all four years with my dad as the coach," said Macie Russell, who along with Brianna Filicsky are the only seniors on the team. "I'm going to miss this a lot."

Box Score At Moweaqua Altamont 39, Salt Fork 29

Altamont (39) — Brianna Grunloh 0 0-0 0, Claire Boehm 0 0-0 0, Peyton Osteen 0 2-2 2, Kylie Osteen 3 0-0 6, Grace Nelson 7 10-12 24, Libby Reardon 0 0-0 0, Kaylee Lurkins 2 0-0 4, Skylie Klein 1 0-0 3. Totals: 13 12-14 39.

Salt Fork (29) — Macie Russell 4 4-7 12, Brycie Hird 2 0-0 4, Bracie Hird 0 0-0 0, Alexa Jamison 2 1-1 5, Sailor Pacot 0 0-0 0, Ella Cary 0 0-0 0, Taylor Remole 3 0-0 8, Brianna Filicsky 0 0-0 0, Rhaelyn Flak 0 0-0 0. Totals: 11 5-8 29.

Altamont 4 8 10 17 — 39

Salt Fork 4 6 9 10 — 29

3-pointers — Altamont 1 (Klein 1). Salt Fork 2 (Remole 2). Total fouls — Altamont 13, Salt Fork 18. Fouled out — Russell. Officials — Todd Maxwell, Dave Smith and Larry Watts

Records — Altamont 26-6 overall. Salt Fork 28-6 overall.