DIXON – The climb out of the hole they dug for themselves Thursday night was just a couple of steps too much for the Sauk Valley Skyhawk women.
After falling behind Black Hawk East early, Sauk couldn't finish off a rousing rally in their Arrowhead Conference opener, falling 50-46 at home.
"We realized once we came out so slow that we had to finish fast," Sauk sophomore Lydia Box said, "but we pushed so strong that we were too tired to close it out at the end. We came out not really ready to play, for some reason, and had too much work to do by the time we got things going in the second half."
The Skyhawks (7-5, 0-1) committed eight turnovers in the first 5˝ minutes of the game, and found themselves trailing 11-2. Box started the comeback trail with a 3-pointer from the left corner, then found Brianna Richardson for a three-point play under the basket two possessions later.
Black Hawk East answered with a pair of jumpers from Elizabeth Groter, then Lexis Lozano-Blanks countered a pair of Box putbacks with two jumpers and a putback of her own for a 27-20 Black Hawk East lead with 6:29 left in the half.
Sheldeen Joseph cut into the lead with a coast-to-coast layup off a steal at halfcourt, then Box hit a free throw to get Sauk to within four. But Lozano-Blanks sandwiched a pair of baskets around a Kalyn Daily layup to push the lead to 10 (33-23) with 1:33 left before halftime.
"We were really flat tonight; it just didn't seem like we had any energy," Sauk coach Jed Johnson said. "I don't know if it's because we had that big break over the holidays or what, but we couldn't get anything going."
Box hit two free throws and Richardson turned a Holly Nicklaus pass into a layup to end the first half, but Black Hawk East scored the first four points out of the locker room on jumpers by Lozano-Blanks and Groter to extend the lead back to 10, 37-27.
That's when the Skyhawks went to work. Nicklaus hit back-to-back 3s, then Box drove the lane and finished with a pretty scoop shot, and the Skyhawks were within 37-35 with 16:33 to play.
After a Desiree Howell bucket, Richardson's basket off a baseline cut was the only points for either team during a 6-minute sequence. But Arlicia Turner scored off Joseph's pass to tie the game at 39 with 9:52 to play, then Groter scored again to put Black Hawk East ahead by two – but Nicklaus answered with a three-point play to give Sauk its first lead, 42-41, with 6:55 to play.
"When we ran our offense, we went on runs," Nicklaus said. "We worked the ball around, found the open shots, and played together well."
But it didn't last. Groter and Lozano-Blanks hit jumpers as the Warriors reclaimed the lead, then Groter answered two Box free throws with another jumper to put Black Hawk East up 47-44 with 3:09 to play.
Richardson's putback on a missed free throw got Sauk back to within 47-46, but two more missed free throws set up Groter's baseline jumper with 28.7 seconds remaining to push the lead back to three. Lozano-Blanks then hit the front end of a 1-and-1 opportunity with 4.7 seconds left to seal the Black Hawk East victory.
"It just seemed like we ran into a wall," Nicklaus said. "We had a lot of chances to take the lead and win the game, but we couldn't get over the top. We'd have a chance and then mess up, and the next time down court everybody thought they had to do something special instead of working together and doing our jobs."
Box had a double-double by halftime, and finished with 16 points and 14 rebounds. Nicklaus had 11 points, three steals and two assists, and Richardson finished with nine points and eight boards. Joseph chipped in seven points and five steals, and Turner had three points, five rebounds and four assists.
The Skyhawks outrebounded the Warriors 43-30 and outscored them 13-1 from the free-throw line, but committed six more turnovers (23-17) and had 11 fewer assists (20-9). Sauk shot 30 percent (15-for-50) from the field, while Black Hawk East made 42 percent of its shots (24-for-57).
Lozano-Blanks stuffed the stat sheet with 17 points, seven rebounds, seven assists and two steals, and Groter led all scorers with 20 points on 10-for-14 shooting. Kate Morrissey had six points, five rebounds and three steals, and Howell added five points, five assists, four rebounds and four steals.
"We couldn't get anything to go, especially when we really needed it," Johnson said, "but sometimes, you just have games like that. We missed too many short shots and free throws; you have to get the point-blank and wide-open shots to fall if you want to win the game."
Black Hawk East 50, Sauk Valley 46
Star of the game: Lexis Lozano-Blanks, BHE, 17 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists, 2 steals
Key performers: Lydia Box, Sauk, 16 points, 14 rebounds; Holly Nicklaus, Sauk, 11 points, 3 steals, 2 assists; Elizabeth Groter, BHE, 20 points
Up next: Kennedy-King at Sauk Valley, 5:30 p.m. Saturday