With 15-7 records, Hopewell-Loudon and St. Wendelin would likely be pretty high seeds in other sectionals and districts across the state.
But unfortunately, they were grouped with Carey, Calvert, New Riegel and Arcadia, four teams with no fewer than 16 wins each.
Only two from that group will move on to the district semifinals at Kansas. Carey and Calvert took the next steps Tuesday night at Columbian, knocking out the Chieftains and Mohawks respectively.
Carey opened the night with a 64-47 win over Hopewell-Loudon. Calvert needed a fourth-quarter rally in the nightcap to score a 53-47 win over St. Wendelin. Each will play sectional finals Saturday at Columbian. Carey will take on New Riegel with Calvert following against Arcadia.
"It's just a damn shame we're all in this sectional," St. Wendelin coach Aaron Smith said. "That's what I told the girls, 'Saturday night two damn good teams are going to come home with us."
In the opener Tuesday, Carey and Hopewell-Loudon played as close as could be in the opening quarter, as the game was tied on five occasions.
Cassandra Hohman knocked down a bucket for her eighth point of the opening stanza, giving the Chieftains a 14-12 lead.
Then, Hannah Draper gave Carey a spark that carried over the rest of the game.
Draper put her team ahead with an And-1 play with 38.9 seconds left in the quarter. She then stole the ball from the Chieftains, and scored again as Carey took a 17-14 lead at the first stop.
Carey coach Phil Vaughn called Draper's series of plays at the end of the first "a big momentum changer."
"She had a few offensive rebounds. She played hard," he said of Draper, who finished the night with 14 points and seven rebounds. "She really did some key things in some key situations."
Carey (19-4) used the surge in momentum to go on a 19-4 run and take control.
Both Vaughn and Hopewell-Loudon coach Rod Daniel agreed that Carey's edge in the transition game, and offensive rebounds, were decisive factors.
"Second chance, and I think our transition buckets," Vaughn said when asked the keys to the win. "I think we ran the floor and got some buckets. Our post players got down the middle of the floor and our guards did a good job getting down the floor."
"Defensively we didn't get back well at all ... layups killed us," Daniel added. "First time we played, they hit a lot of 3s against us. I thought we did a better job of defending that, but we just didn't do a very good job of getting back on defense, gave up a lot of offensive rebounds to Carey."
A lot of those rebounds came courtesy of Hannah Tong. Tong dominated the game inside finishing with 18 points, 14 rebounds and five blocked shots. As a team, Carey doubled up the Chieftains on the glass, 48-24.
"It's pretty easy to get offensive putbacks when you don't box out," Daniel said. "I'm sure we got killed on the boards. We didn't get a body on people and we knew Tong was going to kill us if we didn't get her out of there. She worked so well around the basket. She's a solid player inside for them."
Hohman led H-L (15-8) with 14 points, while Courtney Burns chipped in 10.
It looked early on like the night's second game would have the same lack of drama. Calvert broke an early 7-7 tie with a 16-3 run.
Calvert (17-6) held a 27-14 edge late in the second quarter before a basket from Kamryn Troike started eight-straight St. Wendelin points to end the quarter. After hitting on 1 of their first 8 3-point attempts, the Mohawk got back-to-back trifectas from Taylor Williams and Heather Saalman to close the gap to 27-22 at the half.
St. Wendelin kept the momentum in the third quarter, outscoring the Senecas 12-5 in the period to take a 34-32 lead into the fourth.
"They made a little run there at the end of the half, I think they hit two 3s right before the close of the half to get back in the game and then we just got a little stagnant on offense," Calvert coach Tim Ritzler said. "(Smith) did a great job of switching up the defense trying to confuse us a little bit offensively and it worked for a time and we just got back to doing what we did best. We started getting out in transition a little bit more, pushing the ball up and down the floor. That's what works best for us. Once we got that going in the fourth quarter we were able to make our run and close the game."
Williams opened the fourth with another 3-pointer to stretch the lead to five, but Nicole Bickley hit two quicks to trim it back to one.
From there, Calvert took over.
Olivia Smith put her team back in front, 39-38, with 4:06 to play. Lindsay Bickley and Kate Brickner followed with baskets to give Calvert some breathing room.
Smith led Calvert with 17 points, nine coming in the fourth quarter.
"She's been playing so phenomenally for us," Ritzler said. "Everyone knows about Kate coming into the game. She's had such a breakout year that you forget how good Olivia was last year for us and how good she could be that when the defense isn't focused on her. She can make some good plays for us.
Two Colleen Fondessy baskets got St. Wendelin back to within one with 1:37 on the clock, but Smith closed out the game with a basket, and four clutch foul shots. Nicole Bickley and Marisa Horn also knocked down a pair of foul shots to ice the game.
"We still had our chances," Smith said as his team closed out its season with a 15-8 record. "We came in here expecting to win. We put a game plan together, we thought we followed it pretty well. They hit a couple more buckets than we did."
Fondessy, in her last game for St. Wendelin, led the team with 13 points.