Buehler? Buehler? Buehler? Yes, Buehler hits clutch free throws as QND rallies past Unity

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Quincy Notre Dame freshman guard Ari Buehler sizes up a free throw during Saturday's game against Mendon Unity at The Pit. | Matt Schuckman photo

QUINCY — The moment required Ari Buehler to ignore, focus and follow through.

Not an easy task on any front.

Fouled with 14.4 seconds remaining in regulation and the Quincy Notre Dame girls basketball team clinging to a two-point lead, the freshman guard first had to become oblivious to the chatter from the Unity players before approaching the foul line.

“Sage (Stratton) and I were telling her to take a deep breath and not to worry about what they were saying to her,” QND senior all-state guard Abbey Schreacke said. “They were talking to her quite a bit. They were trying to get in her head.”

Already nervous, the chirping could have cracked her focus completely.

“I was happy because I wanted that situation, but I was not happy because I was scared,” Buehler said.

No one would have known it. Buehler’s body language exuded confidence as she toed the line and calmly sank back-to-back free throws with perfect follow-through, helping preserve a 57-53 victory Saturday afternoon at The Pit to run the Raiders’ season-opening win streak to seven straight games.

“She’s quickly morphing into a sophomore,” said QND coach Eric Orne, whose team is ranked No. 1 in Class 2A. “She’s had some big-game experience. She’s been there. She’s a kid who I think loves the game of basketball and loves to be in that moment.”

It also meant the first loss for the Mustangs, who entered the game 8-0 and ranked third in Class 1A.

“Not many 1A schools are going to come into The Pit and put up that kind of fight,” Unity coach Brad Begeman said. “I’ve never seen a team come away so thrilled with a loss, I guess you’d say. They’re disappointed, but I reminded them most teams can’t come in here and do what we did. This is a tough place to play.

“It was a great learning experience for our girls.”

Had it not been for a rough three-minute stretch of the fourth quarter, the Mustangs might have pulled off the upset.

Unity went ahead 51-45 with 5:10 remaining in regulation after Ashlynn Arnsman, the Mustangs  forward who has signed with Quincy University, scored on back-to-back possessions — the first over the top of Schreacke and the next lowering her shoulder into Schreacke’s chest.

Following a timeout, the Raiders ramped up their full-court pressure and forced the Mustangs to turn the ball over on five of the next six possessions.

It fueled a 10-2 run by the Raiders with Schreacke hitting a step-back jumper from the left elbow for a 55-53 edge with 2:25 to go.

“I was telling everybody, ‘This is it. This is what we’ve got. We can’t let them hang in any longer,’” Schreacke said.

Unity failed to score on three consecutive possessions in the final two minutes with Schreacke drawing a charge on Arnsman and then collecting a pair of defensive rebounds.

With QND anticipating going to the free-throw line in the final minute, everyone in The Pit assumed the ball would go to Schreacke.

“Everybody does,” Buehler said. “Everybody knows.”

Yet, it was Buehler who handled the ball and was fouled.

She’s also the one who gained an immense amount of confidence by making both free throws.

“A lot more than I had,” Buehler said. “It’s not as scared anymore.”

Schreacke scored a game-high 27 points, but Unity senior Kyra Carothers guarded her for all 32 minutes and made her work for every point. Sophia Shaffer led the Mustangs with 17 points and Arnsman finished with 15 as Unity showcased the ability to dictate tempo with execution.

“We never got into a three- to five-minute stretch where we were just in rhythm,” Orne said. “Everything we did was tough, and they made it tough. Offensively, they took it at us. They got easy looks off their sets, and that really made us battle.”

Columbia (Mo.) Rock Bridge will do the same Sunday when the Raiders and Bruins square off in the final game of the Sophie Cunningham Classic at Columbia College’s Southwell Complex.

“No one is going to give us a break,” Schreacke said.

But thinks beating Unity in a rivalry game will allow the Raiders to relax come Sunday.

“Tomorrow, we can always turn it loose a little,” Orne said. “That’s tough to do in a rivalry game like this. These kids have been going at it since sixth grade. Hopefully, with this rivalry game off our shoulders, we can play a little looser.”

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