By Blake Baxter
The Eureka College women were on the road against Iowa Wesleyan, clinging to a five-point lead heading into the fourth quarter.
And for Samantha Sarnes, the outside shots just weren't falling. Normally solid from distance, the 5-foot-6 senior was 0-for-5 from beyond the arc at that point in the night.
"I wasn't shooting well at all," Sarnes said, "so after I shot my last 3, I was like, 'You know what, I'm not going to make any, so I might as well start attacking.'"
Over the next 10 minutes of play, she did exactly that. Sarnes repeatedly drove to the basket, drew fouls and put away free-throw opportunities with poise.
She tallied 12 of her team-high 21 points in the fourth quarter, sinking 8 of 9 free throws, gathering a pair of boards and recording an assist as the Red Devils pulled away from the Tigers for a 73-56 St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference win.
While Sarnes started being more assertive and taking what the defense gave her, the rest of her team followed suit. After shooting just 33 percent and looking disjointed for the first three quarters, the Red Devils finally found their rhythm. By the end of the frame, they'd shot 61.5 percent from the field.
Every player on the floor contributed, but Sarnes led the way.
"She has big-game potential," EC coach Amos Arbogast said. "If she can get comfortable and get things going, she has potential to really help us have big games and put us over the top."
That's precisely what Sarnes, the team's lone four-year senior, has been trying to do in her last season as a Red Devil.
"Doing whatever I can to make us win," she said. "If I need to score points, I'll score points. If need to get rebounds, I'll get rebounds. If I need to defend one girl and not let her touch the ball, that's what I'm going to do.
"Whatever coach needs me to do or my teammates need me to do, that's what I'm going to do."
Sarnes has had her share of moments as the second half of the season has unfolded for the EC women. Chief among them have been a career-high 29-point performance at Westminster and an 18-point night in a decisive win over Blackburn.
She's averaging a team-high 12.2 points on a career-best 41.1 percent shooting while hitting 72.9 percent of her free throws and 29 percent of her 3-point tries, and grabbing 4.5 boards per game.
As a team, the Red Devils have worked their way from a 3-6 start to a .500 record – and picked up wins in five of their last seven contests.
Last Saturday's triumph over top-four SLIAC squad Webster was the team's most impressive result yet, and another victory at Principia on Tuesday night would make EC 11-10 heading into Saturday's home showdown against SLIAC foe Fontbonne.
There are only five games left in Sarnes' basketball career, and she wants to fondly remember them.
The daughter of Terri Sipes and Bruce Sarnes, Samantha fell in love with the sport at a young age in Havana, Illinois. Her dad was always showing her, along with older sisters Brittany, Brileigh and Sabrina, videos from his playing days, sparking a friendly rivalry that continues to this day.
"He'll show it and he'll be like, 'Oh, do you see what I did there?'" Sarnes said with a laugh. "And I'm like, "Yeah, okay. That's nothing compared to what I did in this game."
Before she came to Eureka, Sarnes helped her high school team capture its first regional and sectional titles while posting a 30-5 record during her senior year. At Havana, she also crossed paths with future Red Devil teammates and friends, Kerrigan and Kennedy Dura.
Sarnes recalls being personally annoyed when Kerrigan recorded her 1,000th career assist against her team. She still shakes her head and smiles when she tells the story.
Said Sarnes: "I talked to my team and said, 'We're not letting her get to 1,000 assists, I don't care what you have to do.' Well, it gets to about halfway through the game, third quarter or so, she gets to 1,000 assists.
"With Kerrigan, you can't stop her from passing the ball. It's just in her nature. And then Kennedy, she's the exact same way. They're two of the greatest people I've ever played with."
Kennedy Dura, who has played with Sarnes at Eureka for three seasons, remembers Sarnes standing out in those physical high school battles between Havana and Brimfield.
"I remember thinking about what a competitor Samantha was, and it made me excited to experience college basketball with her," she said. "Our last few years together have been so fun. We connect on a different level on and off the court."
Over the course of her college career, Sarnes has grown more aggressive with the ball in her hands, and more comfortable contributing on both ends of the floor.
She came off the bench for most of her first three seasons as a Red Devil, and has started nearly half the games this season while logging 21.9 minutes per game.
A business administration major and a political science minor, Sarnes credits the sport, and her team, for keeping her focused in the classroom.
"My team influenced me to do that, so I could be there on the court for them when they needed me," she said. "I wanted to hold myself accountable so I could make sure I was there for them."
Sarnes has experienced a lot in her four years here, including a memorable trip to Ireland and EC's first conference tournament championship and NCAA tournament berth in 2017.
It hasn't always been smooth – nearly every student-athlete encounters adversity along the way – but the challenges she's faced, lessons she's learned and successes she's had on and off the court are all a part of her Eureka story.
They've led her to where she is now.
"It's been pretty great, honestly," Sarnes said. "Being able to be a part of it, getting the program where it needs to be, to where in the future it can be successful, has been a pretty great experience for me."