Timberwolves hold off Falcons, win first sectional since 2014

Feb. 23—COLFAX — Cissna Park girls' basketball went down to the wire to do something it hadn't done in a decade on Thursday night.

Fifteen points on five three-pointers from Josie Neukomm helped the Timberwolves hold off Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley for a 43-42 victory in a double-overtime thriller worthy of its high stakes that yielded Cissna Park's first Class 1A sectional plaque since the 2013-14 season.

"That was a game (where) no matter what happens, you don't want to be on the wrong side of that," Cissna Park coach Anthony Videka said. "That's just such a quality game. Hats off to Gibson City, they played a heck of a game ... we're just thankful we came out on the right side."

A near-capacity crowd at Ridgeview High School was nothing new for the Timberwolves, many of whom grew accustomed to raucous atmospheres during a run to the Class 1A volleyball final four a few months prior.

"A lot of these girls have been playing in big time events for a long time," Videka said. "That goes a long way for these girls and playing in big time games and being able to step up in big time moments, we're happy they're on our side, that's for sure."

That isn't to say that victory came easily for the Timberwolves (27-7) in their second overtime contest of the season.

Their early 6-2 edge turned into a 10-7 deficit early in the second quarter after Lily Sizemore sank a free throw, collected a loose ball and drove for a layup with 6:44 remaining.

GCMS (23-10) led for much of the second quarter and ultimately earned an 18-17 edge after the first 16 minutes thanks to Sizemore's six points in the half.

"We kind of missed a few assignments in the first quarter," GCMS coach Ross Harden said. "We talked it over and then we locked back in on defense, that's where we hang our hat ... that's a tough way to go out, but what a hell of a game and a hell of an atmosphere."

Sizemore broke free for a layup on GCMS' first possession of the second half to claim a 20-17 edge, which it added onto when Mindy Brown hit a free throw moments later.

A layup from Autumn Reutter and a pair of free throws from Regan King, however, tied the affair at 21 with 3:27 remaining in the third quarter.

Twenty-eight seconds later, two more free throws from Addison Lucht gave the Timberwolves a 23-21 edge.

They seldom trailed again, with Hamrick's three-point contribution in the frame helping secure a 26-25 edge by the end of the frame.

"That inside post presence really got us going," Videka said. "After watching plenty of Gibson City games, that's not really where a lot of teams attack them. They've got two six-footers sitting down there, but we have a lot of faith in our post players."

Brown connected on a deep three-pointer with six minutes remaining in the game to put the Falcons ahead 30-28, but a quick equalizer, an emphatic block from Hamrick and a three-pointer from Neukomm with 3:55 to play lifted the Timberwolves to a 33-30 lead.

"That kind of got our spirits up," Videka said. "Five threes is big, don't get me wrong, but in a sectional game that's even bigger. All summer we've been working on her shot and on top of that Josie's been doing a lot with volleyball ... I think she'll be the first one to tell you that she'll do it for her teammates."

Neukomm added another three with 2:10 left to bolster the Timberwolves' edge to 36-32 before the Falcons rallied to tie the game at 36.

In the final 30 seconds, that score withstood a stolen inbound pass by Addison Lucht and a possession from the Falcons in which they were unable to find a clean shot before the buzzer sounded.

Overtime yielded a basket for each team; GCMS capped its final possession of the first of the two overtime periods with four missed shots in the final eight seconds.

"It was just kind of chaos down the stretch, but that's kind of how we practice all year, too," Videka said. "Kind of putting them in hard spots and always trying to get them in difficult situations. We just preach to them, we're going to put you in the best spot possible for any situation."

The second overtime didn't yield much more scoring. Hamrick grabbed a rebound and took it up to give Cissna Park a 40-38 edge before Sizemore knotted it up with a layup with 2:10 remaining.

A layup from Cally Kroon gave the Falcons a 42-40 edge with 1:04 on the clock, but another three-pointer from Neukomm with 20 seconds left gave the Timberwolves their final edge.

"The first emotion for me was relief," Videka said. "Then I turned and looked at our girls and it was joy. I'm so happy, happy for our seniors and all of your players jumping up and down, that's why you coach."

Hamrick totaled 12 points to follow Neukomm's team-best scoring figure, with Lucht adding six points and Sophie Duis contributing four points.

Sizemore finished with 16 points to pace the Falcons, with Brown and Sophia Ray adding eight points apiece and Mallory Rosendahl chipping in six points.

"She's unreal," Harden said of Sizemore. "She's going to be a problem for a lot of teams the next three years. She's good ... I'm just proud of them. The fight in these girls was like no other tonight."

Thursday night's loss marked an end to the Falcons' quest for their first sectional championship since Gibson City and Melvin-Sibley consolidated before the 1993-94 school year.

The lone state finals appearance for either school prior to that was Gibson City's 30-2 campaign that culminated with a third-place finish in the 1993 Class A tournament.

Optimism abounds, though, with nine of the Falcons' players set to return.

"We've got a young group and I'm really, really, really excited about what's coming back," Harden said. "We're just going to try to build this thing and keep the winning mentality going at GCMS."

Cissna Park, meanwhile, is one win shy of its first state finals appearance since it went 29-3 and went to the Class A finals in 2000. The Timberwolves will face Altamont on Monday at 7 p.m. at Blue Ridge in Farmer City.

"Right now, we want the girls to just celebrate and enjoy this," Videka said. "We've got a tough road ahead of us, but I think we're up to the challenge."