Trailing Branson by six points headed into the 4th quarter of their final home game, Republic’s seniors stepped up.
“My words were ‘We’re not losing on our senior night. No way,'” says Alice Heinzler.
“We were all kind of down, but us seniors held it up and we were like, ‘Okay, we’ve got to do something about this,'” says Kayla Bartelsmeyer. “We’re not losing our very last game here.”
From there, the Lady Tigers exploded. They outscored Branson 23-5 in the final quarter to win 58-46. Alice Heinzler paced the Lady Tigers with 24 points. Eleven of those came in the 4th quarter, when Heinzler made 11 of 12 free throws to help stave off Branson’s final push.
Fellow senior Alex Botkin added 14 points, including 4-of-4 from the line in the final period. Sarah Kreul added seven points for Republic.
The night began with a ceremony to honor one of the most successful senior classes in the history of Republic’s storied girls basketball program. Alice Heinzler, Alex Botkin, Sarah Kreul, Kayla Bartelsmeyer and Lindsey Carlson have been part of three district championship teams, been to two state quarterfinals, won a state championship last year, and have lost only one game so far in their senior season.
They’ve also played together for a decade, going back to their time in youth basketball.
“We had a senior dinner before the game, and we just kind of reminisced on our ten years together,” says Lindsey Carlson. “We were excited to play. It was a good atmosphere tonight and we wanted to go out and get that win.”
“We’ve been each other’s everything for a long time,” says Kreul. “I think that’s why we’re so special as a team, because we really do love each other. Each one of these girls are special to me.”
“It’s been in our gut all day,” says Heinzler. “We’re friends on and off the court, and we respect each other a lot on the court and we work hard and we don’t like to lose.”
“It will probably hit me tomorrow when I realize, ‘Oh, I’m not playing here anymore,'” says Botkin. “But then it also didn’t feel like a last game because we still have more to come. So it’s bittersweet, definitely.”
Republic also honored senior Tigerette Meagan McCord, and Tiger mascots Emily Hillenburg and Joel Adams before the game.
At the opening tip, it looked like the Lady Tigers would roll to victory. They jumped on top quickly, but Branson fought back with a run at the end of the 1st quarter to close the gap to 15-13. Heinzler had three three-pointers in the first quarter-and-a-half, coming off her record-setting seven on Saturday.
At halftime, Republic led by three, 27-24. But the 3rd quarter was big for Branson. The Lady Pirates grabbed a 30-29 lead with 5:35 left in the quarter, and pushed it to a six-point lead before the period ended.
It was a long day. We were all really anxious. We had a senior dinner before the game, and we just kind of reminisced on our ten years together. We were excited to play. It was a good atmosphere tonight and we wanted to go out and get that win.
It was emotional all day because it’s our last game here, but I want to continue our season and I look forward to getting as far as I can.