STROMSBURG — How Humphrey St. Francis finally beat Fullerton in the teams’ third meeting of the season Thursday can be quickly summed up.
It was because of defense.
The Flyers held Warriors to 21.4 percent shooting to win the most important match-up in the series 36-29 in the Class D-1, Subdistrict 4 tournament final at Cross County.
Humphrey St. Francis coach Bryan Reichmuth said a different defensive approach paid off this time around.
"We played better defense tonight," he said. "We took our press off. They hurt us on our press the last couple of games, but we just played better defense. That’s the bottom line."
The No. 5-rated Flyers weren’t exactly lighting the scoreboard up on offense while only connecting on 30.0 percent of their shots.
But their defense kept No. 4 Fullerton from ever holding a lead or ever score more than two unanswered baskets at any point in the game.
"We didn’t execute our offense very well, and they played with a level of intensity that I didn’t feel that we had," Fullerton coach Stacy Kramer said. "Halle (Plumbtree) had been sick the first of the week and she just wasn’t herself on the inside. They kind of took advantage of that.
"As far as our outside shooting, they did a nice job of shutting down Ashley Frenzen and took away out outside shot a little bit. The girls got a little flustered on offense, a little frustrated, and kind of got out of our rhythm."
The Warriors (20-4) did put together a 6-0 run to start the second half and tie the game at 18 with 5:28 left in the quarter on Cheyenne Ostrander’s 3-pointer.
That was the first points scored by a Fullerton player other than Macy Peregrine in a span of 12:44.
Reichmuth quickly took a timeout, and Humphrey St. Francis responded by scoring the next 11 points.
He said the message was simple.
"It was ‘settle down. The game just started over. We’re fine," Reichmuth said. "I saw a little panic in their eyes, so that was the reason for the timeout. But I said, ‘Settle down, we’re fine, let’s go back to work.’"
The Flyers were up 29-22 when they started working the clock with over half of the fourth quarter left.
Humphrey St. Francis only went 9-for-19 from the free-throw line in the final period, but the Warriors were never able to get closer than six points.
"I thought they were going to come pressure the ball a little bit more, and I like our man offenses," Reichmuth said. "I thought if we could draw them out into a man (defense), that would be to our favor. They didn’t want to go man so we worked a little clock.
"Obviously we’ve got to hit our free throws. This game should have been over a long time ago if we made a few free throws. We gave them a chance but, hey, we won."
Kramer said it was a little surprising to see St. Francis start working the clock that early.
"I think the girls got a little frustrated with that as well," she said. "I didn’t anticipate them going into a stall mode that quickly. But it was a good coaching strategy, and it worked for them."
Four of Humphrey St. Francis’ nine field goals came in the first quarter, and they were all from behind the 3-point line.
Morgan Bender connected on three of them to help the Flyers jump out to a 13-7 advantage.
"A good start was (important)," Reichmuth said. "We didn’t talk about that, but the coaches in the background did talk about how important a good start would be. Morgan hit three in that first quarter, and that was a huge start."
Bender finished with 13 points, one behind Jacey Olmer’s game-high 14 points.
Peregrine led Fullerton with 13 points to go along with 10 rebounds. Although Plumbtree — a 6-foot-2 sophomore — was limited to four points, she did grab 13 rebounds.
After winning the first two meetings by a combined seven points, Fullerton knew it would be in for a battle.
"We said it’s hard to beat a team three times, and we knew it was going to be tough," Kramer said. "When we stepped foot onto the court, we knew it was going to go down to the wire. We knew it was going to be a tight game, and it has been every other time we’ve played.
"They’re a great team, and obviously we came out on the short end this time."
Fullerton will now wait and see if it can get to the state tournament as one of the two wild card.
"I think we’re sitting pretty well," Kramer said. "Right now we’re sitting in third and obviously need some help, need some teams to win in that situation. But I think we’re optimistic with everything. We’ve played a good, tough schedule and that’s what I told the girls in the locker room. That’s why you play the schedule that we did.
"We set ourselves up hoping to have another pathway in knowing at the beginning of the season we were sitting in a subdistrict with Humphrey St. Francis. That’s a tough team to play. We’ve played them three times this year, and there’s a possibility if we go to state and they move up (in the points standings) we could be bracketed in with them again."
Humphrey St. Francis ...................... 13 5 9 9—36
Fullerton .......................................... 7 5 6 11—29
HUMPHREY ST. FRANCIS (21-4): Olmer 3-10 6-11 14, Schroeter 0-1 0-0 0, Sjuts 3-11 2-4 8, Podliska 0-1 0-0 0, Bender 3-7 4-6 13, Wemhoff 0-0 1-4 1. Totals 9-30 12-25 36.
FULLERTON (20-4): Ostrander 2-8 0-2 5, Peregrine 4-14 5-7 13, Frenzen 2-9 0-0 5, Plumbtree 1-4 2-4 4, Herman 0-7 2-2 2, Dubas 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 9-42 9-15 29.
Three-point field goals—Humphrey St. Francis 5-12 (Olmer 2-6, Bender 3-6), Fullerton 2-13 (Ostrander 1-5, Peregrine 0-2, Frenzen 1-6). Fouled out—none. Rebounds—Humphrey St. Francis 30 (Bender, Wemhoff 7), Fullerton 36 (Plumbtree 13). Assists—Humphrey St. Francis 7 (Olmer 4), Fullerton 4 (Peregrine 3). Turnovers—Humphrey St. Francis 13, Fullerton 13. Total fouls—Humphrey St. Francis 15, Fullerton 20. Technicals—none.