BYRON – Hobbling on a charley horse and with a solemn tone, Sam Lambrigtsen shared the silver lining Tuesday night in Byron.
"It's hard to beat a team three times in a row," the Oregon junior said after a 60-42 loss in the de facto Big Northern West title game.
The Hawks (21-6, 9-2) won't have to worry about overcoming that stigma. They beat the Tigers (26-2, 10-1) 53-39 at home Jan. 4 and now hope to win the most important tilt - a potential third matchup in the Byron regional championship next Thursday. Both teams needing to win a semifinal to get there.
"It's going to be a really good game," an optimistic Lambrigtsen said. "We've just got to put this loss in a positive way. We're really looking forward to next week."
Tuesday night, Lambrigtsen had a hand in every point of a 12-0 run that got Oregon back in the game after trailing 41-25 moments before the end of the first half.
After Byron's 6-foot-1 sophomore forward Ellie Lehne scored the last two of her 12 points off an easy entry pass, Lambrigtsen drove and kicked to McKaylee Beeter, who splashed a first half buzzer-beating 3 from the left corner.
Lambrigtsen entered a pass to Devyn Absher for a slick turnaround in the paint to open the second-half scoring. Then Emylyn Wright swiped one of her three steals and zipped a lead pass for Lambrigtsen, who spun to the goal for two. Without a glimpse of emotion, Lambrigtsen absorbed a clothesline from Sophie Reecher on the next trip while finishing high off glass.
"I've always kind of been calm like that," Lambrigtsen said. "I don't want to get myself too hyped up. I don't want to get too cocky and have something go wrong. I'm always thinking, 'Go get another one after that.' "
She missed the free throw, but buried a 3 from the top of the key to trim Byron's lead to 41-37 with 5:12 left in the third.
"We know everything Sammy can do," Byron coach Eric Yerly said. "Over the past 3 years, we've seen them play 100 times. She's just a great player, and you just hope she doesn't get 30."
The Tigers succeeded, holding her to a game-high 22. After the Tigers picked apart the Hawks' 1-3-1 zone in the first half with 17 buckets on eight assists, Oregon went to man-to-man.
"I think that really got us going on defense, getting some steals and working as a team passing up the floor and pushing," Lambrigtsen said. "That's our game."
"We really tried to key on the guards and pressure them so they couldn't make those easy passes," Oregon coach Kristy Eckardt said. "And, again, we tried to make the posts work."
But the Hawks hit a wall, Lambrigtsen running into a literal one named Reecher. After her Tigers used a 6-0 burst to rebuild a 47-37 lead and extended it to 53-41 early in the fourth, Lambrigtsen earned that nasty limp by driving into the 6-foot-1 University of Toledo commit. She hit one of the two free throws, but had to head to the bench with 4:35 to play.
It was a troubling moment in an abysmal period for the Hawks. They shot 0-for-10 in the final frame and turned it over 10 times after committing 10 turnovers in the first three periods combined.
"Too many turnovers," Eckardt said. "Stupid passes, dribbling off our foot or whatever it might be. We just couldn't get over the hump, and Byron kept pushing, like they always do."
"It says a lot about our character that we didn't turn on each other," Reecher said. "We could've easily gotten angry at each other for little mistakes. Instead, we looked at each other, got it together and said we'd get them the next possession."
Reecher scored six of her team-high 21 points in the fourth. She added five rebounds, four steals and two blocks and shot 9-for-12 from the floor.
Lambrigtsen had five assists and shot 8-for-12 from the field, including 3-for-5 from beyond the arc. The rest of the Hawks shot 7-for-34 and 4-for-19, respectively. Byron shot a shade over 50 percent at 23-for-45.
Like Lambrigtsen – and even Eckardt – Reecher couldn't help but look ahead 9 days. She admitted her Tigers' loss in the first go-round served as motivation.
"Oh yeah. A lot," Reecher said. "We prepared very well for them. And they were smart changing it up in the second half. But we adjusted and got back into it. We're excited to see what they're going to do next time. I can't wait. It'll be a lot of fun."
Star of the game: Sophie Reecher, Byron, 21 points, 5 rebounds, 4 steals, 2 blocks
Key performers: Sam Lambrigtsen, Oregon, 22 points, 5 assists; Ellie Lehne, Byron, 12 points on 6-for-9 shooting, 6 rebounds; Emylyn Wright, Oregon, 10 points, 6 rebounds, 3 steals, block; Mallorie Getzelman, Byron, 10 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists
Up next: Winnebago (1-9 BNC West) at Oregon, 7:15 p.m. Saturday; Byron at Mendota (5-5), 7 p.m. Friday