STERLING – The tie-dye T-shirts worn by Dixon and Sterling players and coaches gave Friday night's game the look and feel of a Grateful Dead concert.
At the conclusion of the "Crazy for a Cure" contest, part of which benefitted the American Cancer Society, the Golden Warriors seemed merely grateful to pull out a win.
Sterling scored the final eight points to pull out a 51-40 victory at Musgrove Fieldhouse, and remain in the driver's seat on their way to a Northern Illinois Big 12 West title.
"We were supposed to run them off the floor, but I don't know what got into us," Sterling junior forward Kaitlyn Bauer said. "We didn't really listen and we didn't execute our game plan, and Dixon stayed with us."
"I thought it was a really well-fought game," Sterling coach Julie Schroeder said, "and we did what we had to do at the end to win."
Dixon (7-14, 3-4) trailed by as many as 11 points in the first half and was still down 10 (34-24) with just under 2 minutes left in the third quarter before making its move. The Duchesses sliced the deficit to 37-29 by the end of the quarter, then hit their first four shots of the final quarter to get within a point at 39-38 at the 5:50 mark.
Sterling (13-11, 7-0) seized control, however, with a four-point possession. Bauer scored and was fouled with 5:36 to play. She missed the free throw, but retrieved her own miss. McKenna Pearson later dropped in a bucket to up the lead to five at 43-38.
Two free throws from Dixon's Taylor Colby with 4:51 remaining brought her team to within 43-40, but the Duchesses didn't score the rest of the way.
Bauer scored six of her team's final eight points, starting with a basket off a nifty out-of-bounds play with 3:12 to go.
"I think finishing around the basket and executing very well at the end really helped us win the game," Bauer said.
Kiarra Harris paced the Golden Warriors with 14 points, while Pearson and Bauer chipped in 10 apiece. Bauer also grabbed 11 rebounds, helping Sterling to a 31-20 advantage in that department.
Another key player for the Warriors was Gabby Sandoval, who in addition to contributing eight points, four rebounds and four steals, was the chief defender on the Duchesses' Brooke Bailey. Bailey led Dixon with 16 points, but was just 6-for-18 from the field.
"Gabby Sandoval chased [Bailey] all over the place tonight," Schroeder said. "It was a phenomenal effort. Her teammates were there to help her, after the first quarter anyway. I thought we had a good handle on where she was most of the time."
Bailey had 11 of her team's 18 points at halftime, but others stepped up as the game progressed. Darianne Edwards finished with six points, Kacie Dillow had five, and Kari Wolfe and Maggie Bushman added four each.
Bushman's two baskets got Dixon within 39-36, while a bucket from Dillow made the score 39-38.
"Once you get a rhythm, the plays start to work," Edwards said. "We just couldn't keep it going."
Dixon coach Luke Ravlin thought his team played good enough offensively to win, but not on defense.
"We didn't defend the way we had planned on doing," Ravlin said, "and when you do that for a half, it makes it really tough. We hang our hat on our defense, and it wasn't what it could have been tonight."
Sterling is now 3-0 against Dixon this season and has won 26 of the last 27, dating back to the 2002-03 season.
Star of the game: Kiarra Harris, Sterling, 14 points, 4 rebounds
Key performers: Kaitlyn Bauer, Sterling, 11 rebounds, 10 points; Brooke Bailey, Dixon, 16 points
Up next: Dixon at Morris, 7:30 Tuesday; Yorkville at Sterling, 4:30 Saturday