In the end, Salem is perfect
The unbeaten Quakers quieted West Branch with help from Katherine McGarry.
SALEM -- Five days ago, Salem High's Katherine McGarry was so sick she couldn't get out of bed.
She missed a week of practice and several days of school, trying to do everything possible to get well. As she lay there, resting and drinking as many liquids as she could, there was only one thing on her mind.
"I was so mad that I was sick," McGarry said. "When I was at my worst last Friday all I could think about was this game against West Branch, and I didn't care how sick I was, because I was going to play. I didn't want to let my team down."
McGarry made good on that promise, mustering all of the energy she could to be on the floor Wednesday night for Salem's battle against the Warriors.
Thirty-six straight wins
The Quakers rallied around their senior center, overcoming McGarry's illness, Sarah Hamilton's ankle injury and the loss of another starter, to knock off defending Division III state champion West Branch 41-36 in front of a Salem High crowd estimated at between 2,500 and 3,000.
"This is amazing," said McGarry, who scored a team-high 11 points off the bench. "Our team went through a lot this week, but we pulled together and overcame everything. The way we played tonight is what Salem basketball is all about. This is such an awesome feeling."
With the victory, Salem, ranked third in the Division III state poll, won its 36th straight regular-season game. Its last loss came in its 2003-04 season opener against West Branch. The Warriors had won the last five contests against the Quakers.
In addition to maintaining Salem's perfect record this season (17-0), the win was coach Steve Stewart's 200th of his career. And as far as he's concerned, it couldn't have come on a better night.
"I can't think of a better team to be coaching when I got it, and I couldn't think of another team I would have liked to beat for it," said Stewart, whose career record stands at 200-53, including an 87-26 mark at Salem.
"No one knows how much we went through this week and with sickness and injuries and everything, we weren't sure how much we'd get out of everyone tonight. But every girl on this team sold out and were warriors tonight."
Down to the wire
It took everything the Quakers had and then some to fight off West Branch (13-3), the seventh-ranked team in Division III.
The game more than lived up to the hype, as things weren't decided until the final minute.
The Warriors trailed just 22-21 at the half, despite shooting a miserable 3-of-14 from the field. West Branch kept it close by sinking 14 of 18 free throws in the opening two quarters.
Neither team could execute offensively in the third quarter, but West Branch was able to take its first lead of the game at 25-24 with 3:12 remaining in the third quarter.
It didn't last long. Salem's Sarah Hamilton hit a jumper with 1:58 left to get her team the lead back -- an advantage the Quakers never relinquished.
Freshman Kelly Roelen, getting just her second start of the season, increased Salem's lead to 28-25 just before the end of the period with a steal and a driving layup.
Warriors led by Woods
The Quakers looked to pull away in the fourth quarter, leading 38-29 with 3:10 left. But West Branch senior Evelyn Woods single-handedly brought the Warriors back.
She scored seven straight points, including a 3-pointer with 1:07 remaining to cut the deficit to 38-36.
But McGarry hit two free throws with 58 seconds to go to put Salem up 40-36. Jessica Potts added an insurance free throw with 12 seconds remaining.
"I think we are a better team than we showed tonight," said West Branch coach Chuck Campbell. "We made a nice run at the end, but we couldn't execute our offense most of the night and couldn't get the ball inside."
Salem's guards were largely responsible for the Warriors' failure to make entry passes into the post. Intense pressure on the ball was a big key to shutting down West Branch's inside game.
The Quakers held Illinois-bound Tori Arndt to six points. Woods finally got going in the second half, scoring all 13 of her points. But she was forced to score more from the outside than in the lane.
"They put a lot of pressure on us, and our guards panicked a little bit," Campbell said. "We didn't get good looks inside, and we had to bring Evelyn out away from the basket farther than we wanted to."