Maples Leads Raiders Back to 1A State FinalsPosted:
NORMAL -- Central A&M girls coach Tom Dooley uttered just one word immediately after the Raiders' state semifinal win over Indian Creek.
The Raiders will get a shot to defend their 1A crown Saturday, thanks to tough, gritty, and yes, ugly 34-31 win at Redbird Arena.
When time expired, Central A&M's celebration was akin to that of their state championship win in 2015 - jubilant, with a heavy sigh of relief, understanding they got away with one.
"What I thought it showed was how mentally tough these kids are," said Dooley postgame. "These kids really dug inside mentally, and found their will to win. I couldn't be more proud."
Central A&M fell into a 17-6 hole early in the game, thanks in part to their inability to penetrate Indian Creek's low post. The Raiders shot 23.1% in the first half, while committing eight turnovers. They defended well enough to stay in the game, however, trailing 18-10 at half.
It was their first halftime deficit since last year's state title game.
Players credited a rousing halftime speech by coach Dooley, but Dooley claims Central A&M's 2nd half inspiration came from an unlikely source, at least vocally -- senior Mikah Maples.
"I just said, this is my senior season, and I don't want to go out in the 3rd/4th place game," said Maples, who spoke up when the team was in the tunnel ready for the 2nd half. "When I say something, which is not very often, I think they took that to heart."
"I'd never seen her do this, but I looked at the coaches and said, that's all I needed to hear," said Dooley.
Whoever that speech was intended to inspire, it was Maples who channeled that energy into production late.
The senior ended up with 20 points - 18 in the 2nd half - which included 12-of-16 from the free throw line.
Fellow senior Ryan Dooley was asked for her analysis of the game. "Mikah Maples. That's all I've got to say."
Maples' determination to get to the hoop and seek contact was key in limiting all-state honorable mention center Josie Diehl.
The Timberwolves' 6-foot rebounding machine, Diehl came in averaging a double-double.
Friday, limited by foul trouble, she finished with 5 points and 5 rebounds. She fouled out with just 4 seconds left in the game.
"We just started going to Mikah. I think we went 8 straight trips giving her a touch, or trying to give her a touch. We just climbed back in it and then just fought until the end, but Ryan's right. Mikah Maples changed the game."
Central A&M's comeback was also keyed by their defense, holding the Timberwolves without a field goal for a 12-minute stretch during the 2nd and 3rd quarters.
All-state guard Ryan Dooley finished with just four points on 2-of-9 shooting. It was a poor day shooting overall for the Raiders, who went 0-for-5 from three, and had just one made basket outside the paint.
The Raiders will defend their state title against Hardin-Calhoun, a rematch of the 2015 title matchup, which Central A&M won 51-41.
Calhoun trounced Seton Academy in their semifinal, 58-42. After the game, Calhoun coach Aaron Baalman made it clear that his team has been looking forward to this matchup all season.
The Raiders, who admittedly weren't as fired up as they should have been to start on Friday, are sure to be ready for Saturday's contest.
"We've got a shot to be back-to-back," said coach Dooley. "We're going to take a swing and see if we can land one."
Tip-off is scheduled for 1:45pm at Redbird Arena in Normal.