Bailey Schrader's tone was hushed, but her frustration was unmistakeable.
The sophomore post's Rock Falls Rockets missed a golden opportunity to score a signature win, falling 57-48 to Byron on Thursday at Tabor Gym.
The Tigers (15-1, 4-0) pulled into a tie with geographic rival Oregon (13-4, 4-0) atop the Big Northern West and turn around to visit the Hawks.
The Rockets (7-11, 1-3), meanwhile, continue to look for a signature victory.
"It's been a while," Schrader said despondently, averting her eyes to the floor. "We were right there."
To the Rockets' credit, they stepped halfway through the door when opportunity knocked. Behind a zone defense that gave the Tigers fits and neutralized their pair of 6-footers, the Rockets led 22-19 at half.
Rock Falls tied the game at 17 when Morgan Mammosser beat the Byron trap and found Dallas Clevenger at the far block. The sophomore – in her first varsity game after being called up when Kara Nehrkorn broke a toe – scored, then lobbed inside for Schrader, who gave the Rockets a 19-17 lead with 3:28 left in the half.
Clevenger scored again a minute later on another Mammosser skip pass, one of her six assists.
"They burnt us on our traps a lot in the first half," Byron coach Eric Yerly said. "I don't think we executed really well coming out in the first half. They dictated and slowed the game down. We like to get up the floor and run."
But Rock Falls coach Craig Mammosser was left wanting more.
"We did the things that we've talked about for the past 2 days and before the game in the first half," he said, "but I thought we should've been up more. We had opportunities, and we missed some shorties. We turned the ball over when there wasn't a lot of pressure on us."
Then the pressure came. Whereas the Rockets won the turnover battle 17-9 in the first half, the Tigers forced them into eight in the first half of the third period. Byron converted them into 16 points (12 of them on runouts) and led 35-23 with 3:32 left in the third. Mayson Whipple scored nine of her game-high 22 points in the frame.
Sophomore post Ellie Lehne scored 12 of her 14 points in the second half. She also grabbed 10 rebounds for a double-double. Lehne said her team got Coach Yerly's message loud and clear at the break.
"It was not pretty, but we came out and delivered what we were told to do," Lehne said.
Fellow 6-footer Sophie Reecher added 14 points, seven rebounds, three steals and four assists.
The Rockets committed nine of their 18 turnovers in the third and trailed 40-28 entering the fourth.
"We didn't play that bad of half-court defense in the second half, but our turnovers created easy scores for them," Coach Mammosser said. "That was the difference in the game, ultimately, was them turning our turnovers into points."
Mammosser's niece, Morgan, scored 11 of her 17 points in the fourth. She hit a 3 and was fouled after the shot with 2:19 left. After hitting the front end but missing the back to make it 52-42, she lobbed to Jordan Giddings on the next trip for two of the post's 18 points.
Mammosser hit two free throws to make it 53-46 with 41 seconds left in the game.
Too little. Too late.
"I thought – for the most part – we had a chance to win this ballgame," Coach Mammosser said. "We had them flustered, and we kind of let them out. If we come out and match their intensity in the third quarter and show them we're not gonna fold, it's a different ballgame."
Star of the game: Ellie Lehne, Byron, 14 points, 10 rebounds, 3 blocks, 2 assists, steal
Key performers: Jordan Giddings, Rock Falls, 18 points, 7 assists, 2 steals, assist; Morgan Mammosser, Rock Falls, 17 points, 6 assists, 4 rebounds, 2 steals; Mayson Whipple, Byron, 21 points, 4 steals, 2 rebounds, assist; Sophie Reecher, Byron, 14 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals, block
Up next: Rock Falls at Stillman Valley, 7:15 p.m. Tuesday
Oregon senior Devyn Absher did some scouting Thursday night at Tabor Gym. Here's her conversation with SVM assistant sports editor Christopher Heimerman.
6:55 p.m.: @CHeimerman: "#Byron girls beat #RockFalls 47-24 in fresh-soph game. 14 til varsity. Get your red-hot updates right here. #SVM"
7:01 p.m.: @devynabsher: "@CHeimerman I'm heading to the byron/ rockfalls varsity game right now"
7:03: @CHeimerman_SVM: "doing some scouting?"
7:05: @devynabsher: "@CHeimerman_SVM you know it. Facing Byron tomorrow at home. Need to do some homework."
8:13: @CHeimerman_SVM: "Now #Byron 48, #RockFalls 31 w 4:51 left. Good luck with the Tigers' bigs, @devynabsher. #SVM"
8:14: @devynabsher: "@CHeimerman_SVM it'll be a tough game."