Soldati leads Hall to third straight regional title
MENDOTA — Madi Soldati reminded Hall coach Brian Holman this week about the moment during her sophomore year when she was struggling with playing on the varsity, and he told her he was “this close” on demoting her back to the JV.
Since that time, they’ve taken part in two regional championships, and on Thursday night, Holman leaned heavily on his senior captain for another.
Soldati came through with a team-high 13 points, nine in the fourth quarter, including the last seven points of the game, to lead the Lady Devils to a 43-40 win over Bureau Valley to give Hall a regional 3-Peat.
Both joked about that distant memory.
“Now he knows he can trust me, and I don’t think we’ll ever get that situation again,” Soldati said.
Soldati was overtaken with emotion when Holman called over to the bench at the end of the game to share a hug.
“I’ve been in the regional championship with (Holman) every year I played, and I didn’t want it to end. I knew something was going to happen when I got over there and got emotional,” she said.
“We fought hard and played our game. That’s what made it emotional. It feels good when you win something you worked so hard for.”
Holman relished the special moment with his senior captain.
“She got a little choked up. I got a little choked up. We’ve won like 82 or 83 games together. This one is special,” he said.
“I’m not sentimental about it, but it’s pretty awesome. I’m beyond happy. Happy for the girls. Happy for the school.”
Soldati and the Lady Devils had to work hard for it Thursday, even though for the first half of the game, it looked like it might come easy.
The Storm fought back from a 16-6 halftime deficit with a 7-0 run to start the second half, and though the Lady Devils came back with an 8-0 run to regain a 9-point edge, BV really never went away.
Christen Hurley, who scored 23 points in her final game in the BV Columbia blues, led the Storm’s rally to start the second half. She opened the half with a 3-pointer at the 6:45 mark and added a putback and another hoop, scoring seven straight points.
Junior Emily Fordham (12 points) added a hoop of her own to cap the 9-0 lead and suddenly it became a 16-15 game.
Hall weathered the storm and began to turn the tide. Junior Gabby Englehaupt converted a 3-point play off her own missed shot, and classmate Janessa Hart added a putback of her own, to cap the 8-0 Hall run.
Hanah Hart beat the buzzer on a scoring drive to give Hall a 26-17 lead at the end of the third quarter.
Bureau Valley was able to trade baskets for free throws, outscoring Hall 9-4 to start out the fourth quarter to get back within one point.
Hurley hit a runner and converted a 3-point play to make it 30-27 at the 4:23 mark. Fordham scored on a putback before Hurley added two free throws and scored on a long outlet pass to get the Storm all the way back within 34-33 with a little over two minutes remaining.
“The first half we were just so stagnant on offense,” BV coach Jim Nugent said. “I’m unsure why, because we’ve seen Hall twice. We’ve talked about it in practice. We know exactly what they do. I think it was a little bit of nerves being in a regional championship, and we had to get them worked out.
“The second half we went to a press. I think that creates energy. Offensively, we started to pick it up. In the fourth quarter, we scored 23 points — mostly due to the press. We were getting up on them, but with girls in foul trouble, it’s hard to do that the whole game.”
Another basket by Hurley, who had 12 points in the fourth quarter, made it 36-35 Hall with 1:25 to play.
Then Soldati, who was the target of BV’s triangle-and-two defense, along with Hanah Hart, took over.
The senior guard scored a layup out of an inbounds play on an assist by Hanah Hart and added a runout to stretch Hall’s lead to 40-35 with 0:52 remaining. Soldati sank 3-4 free throws in the final 40 seconds, offsetting a 3-point basket by the Storm’s Saige Barnett at 0:28.
“They were tough on her. It’s a mental challenge when a team is doing the triangle-and-two or box-and-one on you to stay sharp all the way through the fourth quarter because they want to frustrate you. She didn’t let it happen and made some huge plays in the fourth quarter. She deserves it,” Holman said.
The Hall coach knew it was not going to come easy.
“It’s two good girls basketball teams. If we walk in here expecting to win by 10-15, you’re crazy,” Holman said. “This regional is strong. There’s some good teams out there. We gave up at 14-0 run (Wednesday night to Mendota) and we were on her heels. We didn’t really recover, just time ran out for us.
“It was a (9-0) run tonight and we just fought back. I’m almost speechless. I’m so proud of how they handle things like that. They had to come back or we’re in trouble.”
Nugent was proud his team battled to the end.
“I told the girls, win or lose, as long as they play hard, are in the game at the end and give us a chance to win, I was going to be happy with that. And I don’t think you could ask for anything more,” he said.
“We had a great season. We won 18 games. We had a little ups and some downs, and I’m proud of the way these girls played. Yeah, I thought we had a pretty good season. We won the Princeton Tournament and played for the championship here.”
The Storm bowed out with an 18-11 record.
Hanah Hart added eight points while her cousin Janessa Hart and Englehaupt had seven each for the winning cause.
Hall (23-6) heads to the Bureau Valley Sectional where it will face the winner of Friday’s regional finals between host Winnebago and Byron at 7:30 p.m. Monday.
“We’ll come out Monday and say, ‘We’re here, we have another chance,’ and see what we can do.’ This time of the year, you just look to compete, compete, compete,” Holman said.
• Notes: Along with her game heroics, Soldati also won the 3-Point Contest by making 7 of 15 attempts. Fordham and Hurley also advanced along with Princeton’s Julia Hochstatter, making it through a tie-breaker shoot-off, each making six attempts in the initial round.