Stratton clamps down on another top scorer, leads QND girls to 31st regional title in school history


Quincy Notre Dame's Sage Stratton defends Jerseyville's Tessa Crawford during Thursday night's Class 3A girls basketball regional championship game at George Havens Gym in Jerseyville. | David Adam

JERSEYVILLE, Ill. — When Quincy Notre Dame girls basketball coach Eric Orne walked into the gym for practice on Tuesday afternoon, he noticed junior guard Sage Stratton was already shooting around.

When Orne made eye contact with Stratton, he flashed the number two with his hand twice. Stratton quietly nodded and said, “I know.”

Stratton is known best as the Raiders’ leading scorer, but she’s unquestionably the Raiders’ leading defender, too. She knew what her job was to be Thursday night.

Her assignment was Jerseyville’s No. 22, Tessa Crawford, who averages more than 20 points per game. Stratton limited Crawford to 14 points — and only four in the second half — as Notre Dame held the Panthers 23 points under their season scoring average in a 49-30 victory in the championship game of the Class 3A regional at George Havens Gym.

“I knew (Crawford would be her defensive assignment) when we stayed to watch (Jerseyville defeat Springfield) for a little bit (of Monday’s regional semifinal),” Stratton said. “If they won, I was like, she’s going to be mine. I love those tough assignments. It really pushes me to be a better player personally and a better leader for my teammates.”

Notre Dame (27-4) advances to the Class 3A sectional at Decatur MacArthur and will play Tuesday against Mahomet Seymour (14-19), which defeated MacArthur 53-40 to win the regional at Danville.

Crawford scored three baskets in the first quarter and was limited to three baskets in the remaining three quarters. Stratton’s effort was similar to how she blanketed Okawville All-Stater Alayna Kraus, holding her to 8 points — about 13 below her average — in a 52-25 victory on Feb. 4 at the Pit.

“(Stratton) likes those challenges,” Orne said. “She digs in. She was our leading defensive player when we won a (Class 2A) state championship (two years ago), so she has really come with her all-around game with what she adds on the offensive end.

“Sage did a heck of a job with her, just like we knew she would. (Crawford’s) a heck of a player.  We had to slow her down.”

Stratton said Crawford challenged her with her speed.

“She’s a quick, quick, quick girl, so I had to give her a little bit of room,” Stratton said. “When she would take that space, I would be there. You’ve always just got to look at their stomach. That’s the main place that tells me where they want to go. That’s all I do.”

QND scored nine of the game’s first 11 points, but Jerseyville (21-12) rallied to within 13-10 on a steal and a layup by Crawford late in the first quarter.

The Raiders then went on a 19-2 run, punctuated by 3-pointers from Tristan Pieper and Marie Eversman and two 3-pointers from Stratton. The Panthers missed 11 of 12 shots during that stretch.

“We thought we’d have the advantage in the paint with Tristan, and we got a couple early looks with her,” Orne said. “Then when they started doubling her, Sage hit a couple of big threes, Marie hit a big three. We got the outside game going, which made us hard to double.”

Jerseyville closed to within 32-16 by halftime, and back-to-back 3-pointers by Crawford and Ella Smith got the host school within 38-25 with 4:31 left in the third quarter.

The Panthers didn’t score again in the quarter, while QND ripped off seven straight points. Eversman forced a loose ball near mid-court as the final seconds ticked off the clock, and Lauren Hummel scooped it up and went in for a buzzer-beating layup to put the Raiders ahead 45-25.

Jerseyville never got closer than 19 points thereafter.

The Panthers shot 35 percent (13 of 37) from the field, while the Raiders shot 55 percent (17 of 31). Pieper led QND with 15 points, while Stratton added 14.

The regional title is the 31st in school history for Notre Dame and the first Class 3A regional crown since 2018.

However, the celebration after the game was brief for Stratton. While many of her teammates posed for photos holding the regional plaque afterward, she was among the first players to change out of her uniform. Her focus shifted to next week moments after the final buzzer.

“I got in the team photo,” Stratton sheepishly admitted. “I just know the job’s not done yet. I celebrated a little bit, but then I knew I’ve got to get ready for (practice Friday) and whoever we have to play in Decatur next week. I don’t celebrate until we get the job done.”

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