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Bob Bolton didn’t have much of a voice left on Friday afternoon. Coaching in a state championship game played in front of a loud and raucous atmosphere will do that.
“The place was packed and rocking,” said Bolton, St. Malachy’s eighth-grade girls basketball head coach. “That’s why I kept telling the girls I have to yell at you because I don’t think you’re going to hear me from what’s going on with the other side.”
Trying to fulfill a season-long goal of winning the first girls basketball state championship at St. Malachy also played a role in Bolton’s hoarse voice.
The Tigers were unable to reach that goal after a 28-22 loss in the Class 1A state championship game against Atwood-Hammond on Thursday night at Clinton Junior High School.
It was the second straight year the Tigers (26-2) played for a state championship after placing second in last year’s 1A seventh-grade title game, and also the second straight year Atwood-Hammond beat them in the state championship game.
“Hats off to Atwood-Hammond,” Bolton said. “It’s a good program and a great team. They really do have a lot of players. Some of our outside shooting wasn’t up to par, and they always pressured the ball.”
Both teams were tied at 6 after the first quarter, but Atwood-Hammond (26-2) went into halftime with a 16-12 lead. The Chargers kept that lead intact in the second half and went into the fourth quarter ahead 22-18.
“I tried to instill in the girls that we were going to have to play a mistake-free game,” Bolton said. “In the second quarter, (Atwood-Hammond) kind of pulled the press off. At that point, I felt it was somewhat of a victory in our minds because (Atwood-Hammond) was concerned about our fast break points. It was a positive on our side of the ball. At that point, we tried to get that halfcourt offense in gear, but their defense stepped up.”
Kayonna Bufford led St. Malachy with nine points while Grayson Carver added seven points.
Andie Bolton added four points and Anna Worley had two points to round out the scoring. Atwood-Hammond’s Kimberly Davis led all scorers with 14 points.
“With about a minute and a half left, you could see the tears welling,” Bob Bolton said of his players, “but they didn’t quit.”
The Tigers received an escort from the Rantoul Fire Department and a caravan of cars out of town before Thursday’s game.
When they arrived back Thursday night, the same scene was waiting for them.
“It wasn’t a surprise anymore, but they were all excited,” Bob Bolton said. “Their spirits were all good going there. On the way home, it was just like last year when they saw the fire department sitting out there on the west side of town. It was definitely a lift for all the girls and the fans, too.”