Sterling vs. Garden Plain, 2021 Class 2A semi

Sterling High's Saragrace Hooker (right) and Makenna Linden (left) celebrate the team's win over Garden Plain in a Class 2A semifinal Friday afternoon at Bramlage Coliseum. The Lady Bears advanced to Saturday's championship game, where they will try to capture their first state title in school history.

Vengeance belonged to the Sterling High girls’ basketball team in Friday afternoon’s Class 2A semifinal at Bramlage Coliseum.

Each of the last two years, Garden Plain stood in the Lady Bears’ way, obstructing a possible state title. But Friday, a breakthrough finally occurred for Sterling head coach Jill Rowland’s team, as it vanquished the reigning 2A state champions, 69-52, to secure a spot in Saturday’s title game.

“This was very satisfying,” Rowland said. “We had a nice run two years ago when we met Garden Plain in the championship game, and then we played again last year in the quarterfinals just before everything shut down and they got us again. So it’s been in our heads. They’re great competitors and a great team and they’re coached very well, so it’s very important to our program that we were able to beat Garden Plain.”

The Lady Bears (23-1) were led by two sensational junior posts who dominated in and around the basket all game. Bennie Horsch had a 23-point, 10-rebound double-double. She paired with Sadie Beagleman — who is called “Solid Sadie” by her teammates because of her consistency — who finished with 18 points and eight rebounds, including going 8-for-9 effort from the free-throw line. Junior Makenna Linden also had 13 points.

Senior Alli Puetz (18 points) and sophomore Cecila Puetz (13) paced the Lady Owls in the scoring department. Puetz also grabbed 10 rebounds, while sophomore Madelyn Rolfs gave Garden Plain a third double-digit scorer (10 points).

Sterling jumped out to an 11-point lead in the first quarter, but Garden Plain battled back to tie it at 30 with 2:16 to play in the half. From there, the Bears had their way, ending the half on a 9-2 run and extending their lead back to double-digits.

Sterling stretched its lead to 20 with five and a half minutes left in the game, and not long after that, the Lady Bears cleared their bench.

With the loss, Garden Plain (17-6) earns a tie for third place. Because of coronavirus concerns, no third-place games are being held in any classificiation this year.

“It’s been a weird year with the way we’ve changed things for COVID protocol, whether iy be for school or for practice or for life,” Garden Plain head coach Kody Kasselman said. “It wears on people, but it’s been good, too. We’ve learned a lot, and it’s brought us together as a team. At least we get some finality this year. I’d rather have the opportunity to settle it on the court than not knowing.”

Saturday will be Sterling’s fourth state championship game appearance, and it will vie for its first state title in school history.

Sterling will play the against St. Mary’s Colgan, which shocked Valley Heights on a buzzer-beater in Friday’s second semifinal.