All season long, St. Thomas More’s Hayleigh Timmer provided a park off the bench for the Cavaliers.
She waited until her first state tournament to have her best game of the year.
The freshman led all scorers in a defensive battle with 12 points, and the Cavaliers, 21-3, advanced to the Class A girls basketball semifinals with a 44-26 win against Vermillion at the Watertown Civic Arena Thursday.
“I just try to stay as composed as I can, and I trust in my teammates, and the game-plan and my coaches; it helps me to get through and stay composed,” Timmer said. “We all as a team encourage each other to stay calm and it really helps when other people are staying positive.”
It wasn’t easy to stay composed during what amounted to a football game both in score and physicality.
The Tanagers ended the game 9-of-38 from the field for 23.7 percent. They also went 3-of-16 from behind the 3-point line for 18.8 percent.
“I was proud of what they did, from the little bit we watched before we knew their big girls can be a little physical, and if you’re not awake, they’ll walk you down and pin you, so we looked at what we had to do,” STM coach Brandon Kandolin said. “We talked about how we could at least contest every one of their shots. It makes it a little bit tough, and I thought we were doing a good job of doing that.”
STM also had its struggles offensively, going 2-of-11 from 3-point land (18.2 percent) and 15-of-39 for 38.5 percent from the field.
“At times we shot the ball a little early, and at times we needed to get more movement,” Kandolin said. “We have to continue to move because if we do that, we can score in a variety of ways.”
The first quarter featured a shaky offensive start for both teams. STM struggled from the field early, but not as much as Vermillion, who didn’t hit a field goal until nearly the end of the quarter.
At the end of the first, the Cavaliers led 14-5.
The second quarter was worse from an offensive perspective. The two teams combined for eight points, and the scoreboard didn’t change until inside of four minutes remaining in the half. Going into the locker room, the Cavaliers led 18-9.
In the third, St. Thomas More started to bully Vermillion back on the boards, and ended with a 27-22 advantage in that category.
Aislinn Duffy had 11 points and 10 rebounds for the Cavaliers, and at the end of the third STM led 30-18. Also in the third quarter, Timmer was able to hit a off-balance rebound as she was being fouled for an old-fashion three-pointer.
The bench was ecstatic, and senior guard Klaire Kirsch wrapped Timmer in a bear hug on the court.
“Hayleigh is a special young lady. She has a great skill set, she has the ability to score from the outside and has one of the quickest first steps I’ve ever seen,” Kandolin said. “If her teammates continue to back her up, she’s going to be an incredible asset, not only for these next two games, but I’m definitely looking forward to the next three years.”
Timmer said she had plenty of nerves before the game but said she thought that made her play better.
She also said her three-point play that seemed to give the Cavs some breathing room was special because the pass came from Kirsch, who has been a role model to her.
“It was just really exciting because me and Klaire are kind of close and that was a great moment,” she said. “It was a good pass and a good finish.”
In the fourth quarter, St. Thomas More's lead grew to 20 at one point, and it outscored Vermillion 14-8 to secure a trip to the semifinals.
Between hijinks on the bench and celebrations on the court, the four-time defending champion Cavaliers seemed loose Thursday, especially as the lead grew. Kandolin said he thinks that’s a good thing.
“Certainly you want them to be focused, but I also want them to take it in and understand what this is all about,” he said. “As long as you’re focused on the game plan, and I thought they did a good job of that.
"We put ourselves in a position to score early, we were able to get some quick turnovers.”
The Cavs won the turnover battle 17-12.
Haleigh Melstad led the Tanagers in scoring with eight points, but was not as prolific as she has been during the regular season, where she averaged 16 points per game.
“Thats a very good team, they’re well rounded with a great point guard and some good role players. A lot of our girls stepped up to the challenge,” Kandolin said. “We knew she would probably prefer to play on the outside. She had the ability to go inside, but I think we knew she would prefer to shoot the 3 so every time we saw a screen we wanted to contest.”
STM’s semifinal game is at 6:45 p.m. mountain time tomorrow and will be against the winner of the Aberdeen Roncalli, 19-3, vs. McCook Central/Montrose, 20-2. Vermillion, 21-6, will face the loser at 12:45 p.m.