Story and photos by Chet Piotrowski Jr.
Mallory Ramage and her teammates were prepared to contently walk to the locker room after thanking the crowd attending the Green Wave’s 64-39 senior night victory over Mt. Zion.
Then a party broke out.
A shout went out to the girls who turned around and saw the Apollo Conference championship plaque. Classmates, parents, and fans rushed the floor to help celebrate with the No. 3-ranked Green Wave one last time at home.
“We had that No. 1 on our goal list,” Ramage who scored 30 points for the third time in two weeks. “We have been working on it for a very long time. I wanted it; everyone else wanted it, too. We went out there and got it. It feels great.”
I thought we did really well,” she said. “We passed the ball really well. All of us contributed tonight and we played together as a team.”
A sloppy first five minutes by the Green Wave allowed Mt. Zion to stay within distance until Ramage led a 9-2 run enabling Mattoon to take a 15-8 lead it never relinquished.
Senior guard Faith Niebrugge attributed the slow start to nerves.
“I think in this game we just needed to improve on stopping 34 (sophomore guard Denver Anderson) because she was really open a lot,” she said. “I think we just had nerves because it was Senior Night and our last home game and we wanted to do well. I was stressed because it was our last home game.”
Ramage had one fewer point than Mt. Zion’s total team output when the Green Wave went into the locker with a commanding 31-19 lead.
With Mattoon ahead by 20 in the fourth quarter, Chloe Pruitt still applied pressure. The senior forward, who was Mattoon’s second leading scorer with 14 points, had two blocks within 90 seconds.
Niebrugge said it is important that the team not ever get complacent.
“It’s important to us because it helps develop our mentality a little bit,” she said. “It doesn’t allow us to get ‘Oh we have this, we got it in the bag.’”
Ramage said those blocks were impressive.
“Chloe had two really great blocks,” she said. “We all hype each other up. While we play defense, we talk to each other. Communication is the main key for us to where we do good on defense.”
Niebrugge said the team still needs to work on its offense as they finish their regular season Thursday at Charleston.
“I think we just need to work on the things we need to improve on like running our offense more and boxing out more and stopping their best player from scoring as much,” she said.
Ramage and Niebrugge, invariably the leaders of this squad, were reflective after the game.
“I don’t want to think about it,” Niebrugge said of her last game at home. “It’s sad that it is, but we get to go into the postseason with these amazing girls. I’m just so happy to have this chance to grow up with them.”
Mattoon’s all-time leading scorer remembers the friendships she’s made along the way.
“It’s pretty emotional because I’ve been playing with these girls since fourth grade,” Ramage said. “I’ve made great friendships with the sophomores and other girls on the team like Lily (Ghere). I’m really excited that I’m going to be able to play college basketball, but I’m going to miss my teammates here.”
As Ramage lingered on her home court one last time for pictures in a t-shirt commemorating the Apollo Conference championship, she considered her legacy.
“I want them to know that anything is possible, if you work for it,” she said. “If you put in the work, you’ll do good things.”
MATTOON – Ghere 3 0-0 8, Pruit 6 1-2 14, Jurka 1 0-2 2, Farmer 3 0-0 6, Niebrugge 2 0-0 4, Ramage 12 4-5 30. Totals: 27 5-9 64. 3-pointers: Ghere 2, Pruitt 1, Ramage 2.
MT. ZION – Becker 2 0-0 4, Means 4 0-0 8, Kendal 1 0-0 3, Scharf 3 0-0 7, Anderson 6 5-7 17. Totals: 16 5-7 39. 3-pointers: Kendall 1, Scharf 1.