After Saline and Dexter, two high-octane and unbeaten varsity girls basketball teams, played to a 10-10 score at halftime, Coach Leigh Anne Roehm challenged the Hornets.
“At halftime, we talked about having the posture of a champion. And, boy, did they ever step up and fulfill that,” Roehm said.
Led by Ella Stemmer and Liz Sekerak, the Hornets dominated at both ends of the court and went on a 16-point run to wrest control of the contest. Saline went on to win 40-18 and improve to 8-0. Dexter fell to 5-1.
The run started with Stemmer stealing a pass and then speeding in for a layup seconds into the third quarter.
Moments later, Sekerak hit a three-pointer. Dexter came back looking for answers but instead Stemmer stole another pass and scored again.
Less than 90 seconds into the quarter, Saline held a 17-10 lead.
“Coach Roehm gave a very motivational speech at halftime. We knew the team with the most heart and the team that was going to come out in the first two minutes of the second half was going to win the game,” said Stemmer, who finished with 19 points, six rebounds and six steals. “So we made sure we played 100 percent. We were trying to get those 50-50 balls and get those loose balls to make sure we could win in the end.”
Saline began the game like they might blow the doors off the Dreadnaughts. Stemmer slashed her way through traffic and scored a layup 10 seconds into the game. Before the first minute was over, Sophie Canen scored a three-pointer. 40 seconds later, Stemmer put back a rebound and Saline led 7-0 just 1:38 into the context.
Dexter got on to the scoreboard with a couple free throws. Sekerak answered with a put-back for a 9-2 lead 3:34 into the game.
It was the last field goal the Hornets would score in the half. Stemmer’s free throw later in the first quarter was the only Saline offense for the next 12:26.
A couple of things happened. Dexter changed from a 1-3-1 defense to man-to-man, and Saline didn’t immediately react well.
“The pressure they provided got us tight on our shots. I felt like we were still getting good shots - we turned it over too much - but we were tight,” Roehm said.
The other issue was foul trouble. Steffi Bentley (five points, nine rebounds) and Amera Boyd both found themselves in foul trouble. Bentley watched the entire second quarter from the bench.
Dexter slowly climbed back into the contest despite missing shot after shot.
Both teams were struggling.
“This was a crazy game. If you would have described how this game was going to go, I would have not believed it. Two teams that average over 60 points per game come in and its 10 to 10 at halftime,” Roehm said.
As Roehm saw it, both teams were struggling and missing shots they’d normally make. So she challenged the team to believe in themselves.
“The team that believes that they’re going to win is going to step up and get it done. I was so proud we made that choice.” Roehm said. “I thought our defensive intensity in the second quarter allowed us to really get that lead.
Nobody embodied that defensive play more than Stemmer, who used intensity and anticipation to turn two steals into four points in the opening 1:22 of the third quarter.
“She combined that effort with an incredible IQ for the game and where that ball was going to go next. Those are not just plays of hustle. Those are plays of intelligence and understanding of the game,” Roehm said. “Her defensive effort was the difference in the third quarter.”
Stemmer said she and the team did their homework and wanted to win.
“We’ve been studying their plays. I’ve been so excited to just get out and know their play and anticipate the next play. Half of that was adrenaline. I was ready and fired up to come out in that second half,” Stemmer said. “It got us off to a great start and I’m glad we finished strong.”
After Stemmer’s second steal for points put Saline up 17-10, Saline got the ball back and Sekerak, who scored nine points and had four rebounds, hit her second three of the quarter, drilling another nail into Dexter’s coffin and giving the Hornets a 20-10 lead.
“Liz stepped up. She stuck those shots. We’re going to be tough when she hits shots like that,” Roehm said, also crediting her vocal leadership.
After Stemmer scored again a steal by Sekerak set up Saline’s next basket. She dished to Canen who passed to Bentley for points from the paint. Saline went up 26-10 when Stemmer lost her defender with a wicked spin and then laid in for two.
After Dexter scored a couple baskets, Stemmer drained a three-pointer to make it 29-15. She added two more points from the stripe to give Saline a 31-15 lead after three quarters.
Stemmer scored 13 points to fuel the Hornets’ 21-point outburst.
The contest was over.
In the third Canen (five points, three rebounds) opened with a layup. Boyd, Sekerak, Beth Ann Ford, Bentley and Stemmer all had points from the stripe in the fourth as Saline outscored Dexter 9-3.
Stemmer said the victory over Dexter was important.
“It was huge. We’ve been preparing for them for a long time. We’ve been so ready to have a really good game against really good competition, so it was huge for us to come out and beat a great team,” Stemmer said.
The Hornets now turn their attention to the SEC Red. They visit Bedford (7-0) Tuesday and visit Pioneer (5-2) Friday. Friday’s win against a tough Dexter team was a great tune-up - but coach Roehm does not want her team to rest on its laurels.
“It doesn’t get easier at Bedford, it gets tougher,” Roehm said. “Bedford is an amazingly tough team. I believe in us and we can get it done. But we cannot be satisfied. We can’t feel like we’ve arrived just because we got this win. We have to take this and take it up to the next notch.”
The Saline Post’s 3 Stars
Ella Stemmer - Stemmer put the team on her shoulders in the third quarter. She sparked the run, converting steals into points, and then carried the play to Dexter the entire quarter. To put in perspective, the score was 10-10 after two quarters of play. Stemmer, herself, scored 13 points in the third quarter.
Liz Sekerak - Hurricane Liz sunk the Dreadnaughts with two three-pointers in the opening 2:22 of the third quarter. She also played tough defense throughout the contest.
Steffi Bentley - Amera Boyd warrants some consideration here, but Bentley gets the nod. She didn’t score much by her standards, but she rebounded well. And when she was in the game, the rest of them played taller. Bentley missed the second quarter. Saline scored zero points in the third quarter. Enough said.