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Post: Blog2_Post
  • Val T.

Link’s big 2nd half helps Winamac beat Lady Zs

Updated: Nov 30, 2023

Popejoy adds 10, including go-ahead trey; McCarter has 13 for Rochester


BY VAL TSOUTSOURIS

Sports Editor, RTC

Rochester’s Rylee Clevenger (3) tries to drive by Winamac’s Sadie Popejoy (12) during Saturday’s game at the RHS gym. Clevenger scored eight points, but Popejoy’s go-ahead 3-pointer in the fourth quarter helped lift Winamac to a 43-33 win. (photo provided by Dee Brown)

Piper Link scored 14 points, and Sadie Popejoy added 10, including the go-ahead 3-pointer with 4:36 left, to lift the Winamac girls basketball team to a 43-33 win over host Rochester Saturday.

Ella McCarter scored 13 points to lead Rochester. Rylee Clevenger hit two 3-pointers and scored eight points, and Aubrey Wilson added six for the Lady Zs, who fell to 3-5.

The game was the first for Tony Stesiak as the coach of the visiting team at the RHS gym. Stesiak was the Rochester girls coach from 2000-17 and coached the Lady Zs to the Class 2A state title in 2004 and to a regional title in 2015. He also was a boys basketball assistant coach from 2017-22 at Rochester.

He was hired as Winamac’s girls basketball coach and dean of students in 2022. The Lady Warriors won four

Rochester junior forward Ella McCarter tries to drive on Winamac sophomore guard Corinne Ulerick during Saturday’s game at the RHS gym. McCarter led Rochester with 13 points, but Winamac won 43-33. (photo provided by Dee Brown)

games last year but have already surpassed that with their fifth win this time.

Popejoy used a high-post screen from Link and gave Winamac a 33-30 lead, and they never relinquished the lead from there.

Winamac’s final 10 points came on free throws – six from Link and four from Kandace Kroft, who finished with eight points.

Rochester led 17-10 with under two minutes left in the first half after a Wilson pullup 15-footer, and Winamac starters Kroft and Maggie Smith as well as reserve forward Marissa Iverson all picked up their second fouls in the second quarter.

But Winamac shaved the lead to 20-16 by halftime. A Corinne Ulerick 3-pointer helped cut into the lead.

Rochester’s Audrey Bolinger shoots over Winamac’s Marissa Iverson (15) during Saturday’s game at the RHS gym. Winamac closed the game on a 13-3 run to win 43-33. (photo provided by Dee Brown)

“It felt like we played … the last four minutes of the second quarter with those three on the bench,” Stesiak said. “And that’s not a lineup we’ve had on the floor at all this year, having those three on the bench at the same time. And that’s where our depth really was pivotal.”

Rochester coach Joel Burrus was hoping for a bigger lead at halftime.

“Really honestly, I thought the second quarter when they brought their subs in, I thought that was the time for us to extend our lead,” Burrus said. “I think we were up 20-16 at halftime. I thought we could have got more of a lead right there. I just thought that if we would have kept things going offensively there, we had a few shots go in and out.”

Smith and Popejoy keyed a 14-1 run in the third quarter with 3-pointers, helping the Lady Warriors take a 30-23 lead.

Iverson picked up her third foul with 4:26 left in the third quarter, but Smith never fouled again, and Kroft did not foul again until there was 2:14 left in the game.

That allowed Stesiak to utilize a lineup to which he was more accustomed.

“And then we could flip it into our favor because those three were well-rested whereas Rochester doesn’t rest their starters unless they’re in foul trouble, and they weren’t yet, so we were able to come back a little fresher, and I think that paid off in the second half as well because we were able to manage that foul trouble in the second half,” Stesiak said.

And then foul trouble hit Rochester.

In the third quarter, Wilson picked up her fourth personal with 3:47 left, and she had to sit. Without their freshman point guard, Rochester committed eight turnovers in that quarter.

In addition to the turnovers, the Lady Zs could not keep Winamac – and especially Link – off the boards. Link had eight points and nine rebounds in the second half alone.

“Same story, different day rebounding,” Burrus said. “I don’t know how many offensive rebounds they had, but it’s too many, and it’s killing us. … The play where I called the timeout and everybody in the gym could hear me was we gave up four offensive rebounds on one possession. I don’t know what else to do other than blow up in that situation. … You’re just putting yourself in a terrible position.”

Stesiak noted that Link played through injury last year but is healthier this year.

“Huge, as she’s been all year,” Stesiak said of Link’s scoring, rebounding and leadership. “The epitome of senior leadership, just having a knack of making the right play at the right time.”

Still, Clevenger buried a 3-pointer with four seconds left in the quarter to cut the lead to four, and two McCarter free throws and a Field layup off an assist from McCarter in the high post tied the game again with 4:48 left.

Stesiak spoke of the experience of returning to where he once coached and coaching against players he might know personally. One of the boys basketball players he worked with was Grant McCarter, Ella’s older brother.

“This junior class sort of ends the run of kids I know at all,” Stesiak said. “I don’t know those freshmen at all. I know Clevenger and McCarter the most. A ton of respect for those kids. I thought especially Ella had her best game of the year, and I told her after the game I hope she plays like this the rest of the year because I thought she played really, really well.

“I respect those kids. It’s never easy going through coaching changes, and they’ve had to navigate through that. … (Audrey) Bolinger, I respect her. Coming back from that knee injury is not easy, and having to sit out a year but coming back and by the end of the year … she’s going to be even more of a force as that goes on.

“In terms of going back in that gym, I was on that sideline for a lot of years, and then they switched benches, so being on that bench wasn’t all that foreign, but to be in that gym as a visitor was a different feeling. Brought back a lot of memories. … It was nice to see some familiar faces in the stands.

It was nice to see the fans in the stands and the people there and I have some friends, (Rochester volunteer assistant coach) Joe McCarter probably being the best among them. Great to see him. It was just a weird feeling, but I was proud of my team for sort of rallying around. They knew what the game meant, and to be able to see them celebrating in the locker room, I said that’s still the favorite part of this: The struggles from last year and to see how much they cherished victory and how much they enjoyed the few victories we had. And then this year, to continue to build on that and it’s not even December, and we already have more wins than we had last year and to still see the joy on their faces. … That joy in the locker room, that’s what keeps you coming back day after day.”

Winamac 43, Rochester 33

WINAMAC (43) (5-3)

Maggie Smith 1 1-2 4, Kandace Kroft 2 4-4 8, Sadie Popejoy 4 0-0 10, Piper Link 4 6-8 14, Lily Bennett 0 0-0 0, Brody Goodman 0 0-0 0, Mershai Loehmer 0 0-0 0, Marissa Iverson 1 0-0 2, Kaelyn O’Connor 1 0-0 2, Corinne Ulerick 1 0-0 3

TEAM: 14 11-14 43

ROCHESTER (33) (3-5)

Aubrey Wilson 2 2-2 6, Rylee Clevenger 3 0-0 8, Ella McCarter 4 5-5 13, Jadyn Field 2 0-0 4, Audrey Bolinger 0 1-4 1, Brailyn Hunter 0 1-3 1, Mia Howdeshell 0 0-0 0

TEAM: 11 9-14 33

Three-point field goals:

Winamac 4 (Popejoy 2, Ulerick, Smith),

Rochester 2 (Clevenger 2)

Total fouls: Winamac 17, Rochester 19

Turnovers: Winamac 19, Rochester 21

Score by quarters

Winamac 8 8 14 13 – 43

Rochester 7 13 6 7 – 33


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