STERLING – Early season games provide the lessons for late-season runs.
For the Newman Comets, the lessons learned during last season's 0-8 start have paid dividends. The Rock Falls Rockets, on the other hand, are just trying to work through some early-season rust while integrating new players into the system.
With that being said, both teams left the court Tuesday night feeling encouraged after Newman's 44-39 win.
"For us, all of last year was a learning experience," Newman senior Rachel Hageman said. "We didn't have the best record, but we got better as the season went on. We put in a lot of work in the offseason, and it feels great to start like this."
Newman (2-0) beat Dixon on Monday in the first night of the Sauk Valley Shootout. They did that by outscoring the Duchesses 25-6 in the fourth quarter.
Against Rock Falls, the Comets made their move in the last 4 minutes of the third quarter. Not coincidentally, Newman went on a 6-0 run that put them up 30-22 while Rock Falls' post players, Jordan Giddings and Bailey Schrader, were on the bench with three fouls each.
"They are just so good, and we don't have that kind height," Hageman said. "We played with so much more confidence when they weren't there. It was huge that we took advantage of that."
The Comets extended the lead to 33-24 with 6:52 left in the game on a Mary Alice Oswalt 3-pointer.
Rock Falls junior Danica Fortune answered with a 3-pointer on the next possession. Fortune wasn't done with that, as she hit another long-range bomb with 1:33 left to pull the Rockets within a point at 36-35.
"She shot three of them, and the first of them went in-and-out," Rock Falls coach Craig Mammosser said. "We're going to need that from her.
"You can tell that we just haven't put the work in yet. We're not running anything offensively, because we haven't had the practice time yet. We'll be glad to get through this week and then have 2 weeks to practice before our next game."
Newman sophomore Aubree Schmitt sealed the victory by making six straight free throws in the final minute.
"I am really proud of the way Aubree stepped up to the line and shot with confidence," Newman coach Jay Howell said. "There's a lot of pressure there, and the first two trips were one-and-one.
"It wasn't always pretty, but they played a full four quarters tonight." Howell added. "We've got things we can do better, but the effort is there and that's good to see."
Hageman led all scorers with 18 points and 15 rebounds. Schmitt, Oswalt and Bree deLong each had six points.
Schrader led the Rockets with 10 points and seven rebounds. Morgan Mammosser also had 10 points and four steals, while Jordan Giddings had six points and five rebounds.
Star of the game: Rachel Hageman, Newman, 18 points, 15 rebounds
Key performers: Bailey Schrader, Rock Falls, 10 points, 7 rebounds; Morgan Mammosser, Rock Falls, 10 points, 4 steals; Aubree Schmitt, Newman, 6 points
Up next: Newman at Sherrard, 7;30 Thursday; Stillman Valley at Rock Falls, 7:30 Thursday