Salt Fork's season ends in sectional championship game

Feb. 23—MOWEAQUA — After a win against St. Anthony in Tuesday's Class 1A Central A&M Sectional semifinal, Salt Fork girls' basketball coach Brian Russell said he would be confident his team would take home a sectional plaque if it continued to play defense like it just did.

If there was any question that defense would be a focal point for the Storm in Thursday night's sectional championship against Altamont, they answered right out of the gate, holding the Indians to just four points in the first quarter.

The only problem was Altamont's defense was even better. Salt Fork also only scored four points in the opening quarter, and it could never get the offense rolling in a season-ending 39-29 loss.

"Both teams had each other scouted really well, and both defenses executed the scouting plan," Russell said. "It's a testament to the young women on both sides, who put their heart and sweat into it. In sports, even though both teams probably deserved to win, one wins and one doesn't. Unfortunately, we were just on the wrong side (Thursday night)."

Both teams' defensive intensity continued through the first half, with the Storm trailing 12-10 at halftime.

The deficit for either side didn't grow past more than a basket or two until midway through the fourth quarter, when Altamont went on a 9-0 run to take a 31-22 lead. That's when junior Alexa Jamison decided she wasn't going to let the Storm's season end without a fight.

Jamison scored a bucket while getting fouled, and she completed the old-fashioned three-point play to make it a six-point game. With about two minutes to go, she scored two more to make it 31-27.

From there, the Indians got back into their groove, surging ahead by double digits for the first time all night and ultimately taking the win to move on to the Elite Eight.

"The ball just didn't bounce our way (Thursday night)," Russell said. "The girls played extremely hard and executed the game plan. It was just untimely for the ball not to bounce our way."

Salt Fork ends the season with a 28-6 record, snapping a 19-game winning streak that started all the way back in late December.

The Storm wasn't able to capture its first sectional title since 2020, but it did go out with the most wins in program history, besting the team's 27 wins from the 2015-16 season. It also won Vermilion County, Vermilion Valley Conference and regional titles, something Russell doubts has ever happened at Salt Fork in the same year.

"They had a fantastic season," Russell said of his girls. "I don't even know if the word 'proud' can really describe how I feel about this team and each of these young ladies."