ASHTON – The Amboy Clippers threw the first punch, and the AFC Raiders countered nicely. But it was the Clippers who won the later rounds, and the Raiders who went down swinging.
Amboy grabbed a big lead, then regrouped after AFC rallied to pull away for a 49-34 victory in the nonconference matchup between the two schools separated by 15 miles.
The Clippers (14-12) jumped out to a 21-2 lead after one quarter, hitting their first four shots and finishing the period 8-for-15 from the field. Kaitlyn Liebing and Autumn Smith did most of the damage in the paint, combining to hit 5 of 8 shots and all four free throws.
"We just jammed it into the post, and wanted to use our strength inside," Amboy senior guard Brooke Lovgren said. "Autumn and Kaitlyn did a great job of turning our passes into points."
The second quarter was all Raiders (10-14). AFC, which had shot 1-for-13 in the first period, held Amboy to 1-for-11 shooting in the second and outscored the Clippers 16-2 to close to within five, 23-18, by halftime. Alisyn Essex and Cassidy Koning hit 3-pointers in the frame, Kayla Colwell added a pair of jumpers and Hope Friday also scored. Sarah Matson scored all four of her points in the quarter, with all four coming from the free-throw line.
The difference: the Raiders solved the gimmick defenses the Clippers were throwing at them, a box-and-one designed to stop Matson and a triangle-and-two focused on Matson and Essex.
"Initially, we saw the triangle-and-two and panicked a little," AFC coach Chris Jahn said. "But once we adjusted a little and figured out the weak side was open for 3-pointers, we got a little confidence.
"Then, we started boxing out Amboy's big girls and concentrated on being aware of where Lovgren was at all times in our 2-3 zone defense. We settled down and got back in the game."
Lovgren sandwiched a 3 between a pair of treys from Essex and Cassidy Koning to open the second half, and AFC was within two at 26-24. But the Clippers had the answer, getting back to what built them the lead in the first place. Tori Welch and Smith scored on putbacks, and Liebing hit a pair of free throws after being fouled inside as Amboy took a 32-25 lead into the fourth quarter.
"We kind of fell apart for a while," Lovgren said. "We just grabbed the ball and shot it, really didn't set our offense up. But at halftime, we talked about slowing down and playing at our pace, making sharp passes, just getting back under control and taking care of the ball."
Amboy scored the first seven points of the final period, with Kaitlyn Appleman (5 assists, 4 rebounds) assisting on jumpers by Kennedy Dinges and Micaela McCoy and Lovgren's 3 from the left wing. The rest of the Clippers' points came from the free-throw line, as Welch, Liebing and Lovgren combined to hit 10 of 15 foul shots over the final 4:13.
AFC tried to stay in it, as Lea Koning hit a 3 before Lauren Meurer hit back-to-back jumpers. Colwell's runner in the lane got the Raiders back to within nine (43-34) with 1:46 to go, but AFC didn't score again.
"I think we just ran out of gas in that last quarter," Jahn said. "We worked so hard to get back from that big deficit early on, and comebacks like that really drain you."
Liebing led Amboy with a double-double, scoring 14 points and grabbing 10 rebounds to go with three steals. Lovgren also had 14 points and three steals, pulling down six boards; Smith matched those six rebounds and added 10 points and five blocks. Welch chipped in five points and seven rebounds, and matched Smith with a pair of steals.
The Clippers outrebounded AFC 42-32, and shot 34.1 percent (15-for-44) compared to the Raiders' 23.1 percent (12-for-52).
"We have strong post players, and we pride ourselves on getting rebounds and baskets inside," Liebing said. "Our goal tonight was to get the ball into the paint and shut down their two big scorers [Matson and Essex], and other than the second quarter, we played under control and did both of those things."
Colwell, Essex and Cassidy Koning each had six points and five rebounds, with Colwell dishing two assists and Essex nabbing three steals. Meurer also had six points for the balanced Raiders, and she had two assists and two steals. The Raiders shot just 16.7 percent (5-for-30) from beyond the arc against Amboy's effective defense.
Matson had four steals, but she and Essex were held to 2-for-14 shooting, and their 10 combined points were 18.7 fewer than their collective average.
Amboy 49, AFC 34
Star of the game: Kaitlyn Liebing, Amboy, 14 points, 10 rebounds, 3 steals
Key performers: Brooke Lovgren, Amboy, 14 points, 6 rebounds, 3 steals; Autumn Smith, Amboy, 10 points, 6 rebounds, 5 blocks, 2 steals; Kayla Colwell, AFC, 6 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists; Alisyn Essex, AFC, 6 points, 5 rebounds, 3 steals; Cassidy Koning, AFC, 6 points, 5 rebounds
Up next: Aquin at AFC, 7 p.m. today; Amboy vs. Indian Creek at Hinckley-Big Rock Regional, 8 p.m. Tuesday