DIXON – When Julie Schroeder's Golden Warriors miss free throws in practice, they run. Kiarra Harris showed off all the benefits of that policy Thursday at Lancaster Gym.
Sterling's 5-foot-10 post ran the floor with speed, grace and impressive ball-handling and had a nice night at the charity stripe, as well, in Sterling's 50-32 Sauk Valley Shootout victory over Dixon.
Harris, a junior, had a team-high 13 points, led all rebounders with nine and on two separate occasions turned them into coast-to-coast buckets.
On the first, she snared the board and, on the other end, spun into the lane to finish and make it 5-4 Dixon (1-2).
"The first thing that goes through my mind is to look up and around and see if their players are still around," Harris said. "If they are, we try to push the ball up the floor as much as possible and try to get a fast break."
"She's a pretty talented young lady, and when she plays hard, she can do a lot of great things," Schroeder said.
Raquel Romano gave Sterling (2-1) a 12-9 lead at the end of the first period by hitting a 3-pointer off Alexis Strong's hustling reload. She snuck between three Duchesses to grab a long rebound along the baseline and found Romano at the top of the key. Romano shot 2-for-3 from beyond the arc after hitting three of four from long range in a loss to Sherrard on Tuesday.
After Sterling built the lead to 16-9, Kacie Dillow found Brooke Bailey along the arc. The junior point guard, who led all scorers with 16 points on 5-for-15 shooting, swished the 3 to make it 16-12.
"Brooke works hard enough to have the green light, and that's why there's very few shots I don't want her taking," Dixon coach and former Sterling assistant Luke Ravlin said. "At the same point in time, we've got a lot of kids who can score the ball, and they're going to come along in time."
The Duchesses trailed just 23-21 at the half, despite committing 15 of their 25 turnovers in the first half.
"I really feel like our kids are playing extremely hard, and they're not letting anybody out-tough them," Ravlin said. "We've just got to get to a place where we're a little more comfortable on the floor and we're a little more settled so we can play as hard mentally as we are phsyically, and we'll be all right."
Dillow fouled Gabby Sandoval on a 3-point attempt with 2.5 second left in the first half. The sophomore point guard hit two of the three throws to give Sterling it's two-point lead at the break. The Warriors scored the first 10 points of the second half to complete a 12-0 run and lead 31-21.
"In the third quarter, we started pushing ourselves, having more confidence and trusting each other," Harris said. "It's wild at that point. Anytime you're having fun, good things are going to happen."
Like another coast-to-coast bucket. After Harris against completed that feat, she made a slick block-to-block pass to Bailey Oetting on the next possession. The senior forward finished to make it 27-21. Harris hit four straight freebies on two of the next three possessions.
At that point, she was 7-for-9 at the line. She finished 7-for-11 and also had two steals, a block and tied with Romano for a team high in assists with three. The last gave Sterling a 43-28 lead as she spun down the lane and kicked to Stephanie Kester in the corner. The senior sharpshooter drilled it for three of her seven points.
"Kiarra is an incredible athlete and a really good player," Ravlin said. "She turned it on tonight. I'll tell you right now, when she plays like that, there's a lot of teams that are going to have a hard time stopping her."
Between facing her old coach and remembering a 47-31 loss to Dixon on Jan. 30, Harris came away all smiles Thursday night.
"[Coach] Ravlin basically knows all of our plays," Harris said. "It's a hard one to win. They gave us their best, and I'm proud that we fought through it."
Star of the game: Kiarra Harris, Sterling, 13 points, 9 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, block
Key performer: Brooke Bailey, Dixon, game-high 16 points, 3 steals, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, block
Up next: Dixon at Rock Falls, 6:30 tonight; Sterling vs. Newman (at Rock Falls), 8 tonight