Calling the success the Crofton girls have had over the past decade "trickle-down," coach Aaron Losing stopped short of calling himself Ronald Reagan after the Warriors topped Pierce 63-37 in the Mid-State Conference tournament championship game at the Cox Activities Center on Saturday.
"I can't act," Losing said.
But he can coach.
In 2006 -- a year after the Warriors won the first of six state championships in 10 years -- Losing led Crofton to the first of seven-straight NENAC titles. Since the Warriors moved to the Mid-State at the start of the 2012-13 season, they've won all three tournaments.
"You can really trace a lot of this back to kids from years ago being motivators and motivated the kids underneath them. When these kids were in elementary school, they were motivated in little kids' camp and into junior high," Losing said. "Crofton's a really close-knit community, and it's a really good trickle-down effect. These girls have worked their tails off to get where they are, but they've been motivated since they were little kids by the teams that we had."
One of those players, University of South Dakota recruit Allison Arens, picked up added motivation a little over a week ago.
On Jan. 29, Pierce led Crofton at halftime before the Warriors rallied for a 51-38 win -- one of only three games decided by 15 points or less during the Warriors' current 45-game winning streak. Arens was held to seven points in the contest.
On Saturday, Arens finished with 28 points on 10 of 13 shooting. She was 5 of 7 from 3-point range and got going early.
Leading 4-3, the Warriors scored nine points in a row with Arens putting them up 13-3 on a knifing layup with 2:30 left. Following a 10-4 Bluejay run, Arens scored eight points in a row, knocking down a 3-pointer off a Maria Wortmann offensive board to give Crofton a 25-13 lead with 2:03 left in the second quarter.
The lead didn't fall below 10 the rest of the way.
"They covered her (Allison) really well up in Crofton. You could tell she was focused tonight," Losing said. "They left her a couple times, and they didn't find her. She was real sharp tonight."
In the third quarter, Arens connected on her first 3 attempts from deep and added another with 51 seconds left as the Warriors increased their lead to 50-28. It didn't fall below 20 for the remainder of the contest as the two-time defending Class C1 state champion Bluejays were unable to control the tempo against Crofton's full-court pressure.
They turned the ball over 19 times as the Warriors rotated eight players to keep fresh legs on the court as much as possible.
"That's a big part of their game if they can make baskets and get into that press. If they're able to do that, it makes it tough for any team," Pierce coach Darren Sindelar said. "They kind of got us going a bit faster at times than we're used to playing, and that's why we made some turnovers there. But they're a good team, and that's why they've won 45 games in a row."
Quinn Wragge also finished in double figures for Crofton with 14 points. Maria Wortmann, held scoreless, added five assists and six rebounds. Kelsey Sanger finished with six points and five steals.
"Last time, we got off to a good first quarter but just went cold in the second quarter. Definitely tonight, for four quarters, I thought the tempo was in our favor," Losing said. "They put a scare in us up in Crofton, and we had to work really, really hard for that win."
Six-foot-one junior Jaci Brahmer led Pierce with nine points. Wyoming recruit Rachelle Tucker added eight points and six rebounds, and Casey Sutherland scored six points off the bench as Pierce finished 14 of 37 from the field compared to a 22 of 40 effort by Crofton.
"The kids competed tonight, and the sun will come up tomorrow. We'll get after it tomorrow," Sindelar said. "I asked the girls, 'What did we end up last year in the conference tournament?' We got fifth, and then ended up first (at state). The year before, we ended up second and then got first. So, this get us ready and tells us what we have to work on."
Pierce 7 8 13 9 - 37
Crofton 15 11 24 13 - 63
PIERCE (18-4): Allison Koehlmoos 0-3 0-0 0, Shelby Bretschneider 2-7 0-1 4, Sydney Silhacek 2-5 0-0 5, Jaci Brahmer 3-7 3-8 9, Rachelle Tucker 4-9 0-0 8, Casey Sutherland 1-4 4-4 6, Hailey Race 0-0 0-1 0, Francesca Dobrovich 1-1 0-0 3, Sidney Zimmerer 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 14-37 7-14 37.
CROFTON (21-0): Monica Arens 1-3 4-7 6, Allison Arens 10-13 3-4 28, Quinn Wragge 5-6 4-6 14, Kelsey Sanger 3-7 0-2 6, Maria Wortmann 0-3 0-0 0, Breanna Allen 1-5 0-0 3, Lauren Steffen 1-2 0-0 3, Kyla Dendinger 1-1 0-0 3. Totals 22-40 11-19 63.
3-point field goals: PIE 2-10 (Silhacek 1-4, Dobrovich 1-1); CRO 8-18 (A. Arens 5-7, Dendinger 1-1, Steffen 1-2, Allen 1-5). Rebounds: PIE 18 (Tucker 6, Brahmer 4); CRO 24 (M. Arens 6, Wortmann 6, A. Arens 5, Wragge 4). Assists: PIE: 7 (Silhacek 3); CRO 12 (Wortmann 5, M. Arens 3, Sanger 3). Steals: PIE 3 (Sutherland 2); CRO 11 (Wortmann 5, Sanger 3). Blocked shots: PIE 2; CRO 1.