DIXON – The Rochelle Hubs hit the glass hard, and the Sterling Golden Warriors had no answer for it. The result was the Hubs advancing to the Dixon tournament semifinals for the first time in 9 years.
Rochelle grabbed 20 offensive rebounds Friday afternoon, beating the Warriors 51-46 thanks mostly to second- and third-chance points off Hub misses.
"They were more hungry for the ball than we were," Sterling junior Kiarra Harris said. "We didn't box them out, and it killed us."
"We always want to be relentless on the boards," Rochelle coach Kay Dobbs said, "and once again, offensive rebounding was one of the big keys for us to win a game."
Sterling (7-9) led 23-22 after a hard-fought, back-and-forth first half that saw both teams make late second-quarter runs. But Rochelle (11-1) took control toward the end of the third period, as Lauren Murphy scored off a tipped pass and Michelle Dobbs turned a loose-ball scramble into a driving layup on back-to-back possessions for a 28-24 lead with 2:44 to play in the quarter.
Raquel Romano's putback basket got Sterling to within 28-26, but three free throws, a coast-to-coast layup off a steal by Christina Williams, and a 3-pointer from the left corner by Marin Meiners put the Hubs ahead 36-28 in the final 30 seconds of the third.
"I didn't think we executed too well in the first half," coach Dobbs said, "but I thought we settled down against their pressure better in the second half and did a better job of finishing."
A three-point play by Abby Gould, then Gould's putback and Michelle Dobbs' layup after she dribbled through the Sterling press gave Rochelle its biggest lead at 45-35 with 4:07 to play.
That's when the Warriors made a last-ditch effort to come back. Kaitlyn Bauer scored on a pretty pick-and-roll play with 3:36 left, then Romano hit a leaner in the lane and Harris hit a pair of free throws to cut the deficit to 48-42 with 1:10 to play.
Williams split a pair of free throws with 42.5 seconds to go, then Harris hit one of two free throws after an intentional foul by Williams with 19.9 seconds left. A post-to-post pass from Harris to Bauer resulted in a three-point play for Bauer, and Sterling was within 49-46 with 13 seconds remaining.
"We got really aggressive there at the end," Harris said. "We just need to realize that we have to have that intensity and effort the whole way. Things weren't falling for us [in the third quarter], and we have to fight through that better."
Williams hit a pair of free throws with 11.3 seconds left to stretch the lead back to five, and Stephanie Kester came up short on an open 3 from the left wing. Rochelle secured the rebound – its 35th of the game compared to Sterling's 23 – and ran out the clock.
Michelle Dobbs had 17 points, five rebounds and two assists, while Gould added 11 points and eight boards. Williams, Meiners and Murphy each scored seven points for the Hubs, with Murphy pulling down six rebounds and blocking a shot, Williams adding three assists and two steals, and Meiners chipping in four rebounds and two assists.
"We always focus on getting rebounds, especially on offense," Michelle Dobbs said. "Every time we get one, it fires us up because it's like an extra possession.
"We played with confidence today, hustled on both ends of the floor, and took advantage of our chances when we needed to."
Harris led Sterling with a season-high 15 points, one off her career high, and also had team highs of five rebounds, five steals and two blocks. Romano and McKenna Pearson each added seven points, while Kester and Bauer had six points apiece; Bauer had four rebounds. Gabby Sandoval chipped in three points, three assists and three steals.
"Every time they shot the ball, it seemed like they got another two opportunities to score after that," Sterling coach Julie Schroeder said. "They're way too good a team to let that happen, because they're going to make one eventually.
"But it's good for us that we get to come back right away [today] and play again. Hopefully we can fix what we did wrong [Friday] and play better."
Rochelle 51, Sterling 46
Star of the game: Michelle Dobbs, Rochelle, 17 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists
Key performers: Kiarra Harris, Sterling, season-high 15 points, 5 rebound, 5 steals, 2 blocks; Abby Gould, Rochelle, 11 points, 8 rebounds
Up next: Dixon tournament, Sterling vs. Rockford Lutheran, 9 a.m. today