STERLING – Brooke Bailey gave the response one would expect of the No. 5 seed in a five-team regional Monday night after she led the Dixon Duchesses to a 51-45 win over the No. 4 Mendota Trojans.
"We came into this knowing that we're the underdog," Bailey said. "We've been in that position all year with no one thinking that we can win. We'll embrace that underdog role because we know that we have nothing to lose entering this regional."
The numbers say Bailey is right. The Duchesses, with an 11-17 record and a good decade of mediocrity behind them, have been the perennial underdogs at regionals.
The problem I have is that Bailey and her Duchesses didn't really play like underdogs against the Trojans.
From my vantage point, the Duchesses looked more like a team that expected to win.
They started the game patient on offense and stingy on defense.
On the offensive end, 3-pointers by Kari Wolfe and Bailey built confidence and momentum. Add in a basket by Darianne Edwards off a hustling rebound and assist from Carly Hartle, and the Duchesses led 9-2 with 3:42 left in the quarter.
Three more 3-pointers by Bailey gave Dixon a 20-10 lead by the end of the quarter.
On defense, they refused to let Mendota have anything easy. The Trojans were taller, especially at the guard positions, and probably a little faster. The Duchesses, like Kacie Dillow and Maggie Bushman, were tenacious bulldogs.
Even when things went sour in the second quarter – the Duchesses shot 0-for-8 from the field – Dixon refused to allow Mendota to take full control of the game.
"This team has had fight all season," Dixon coach Luke Ravlin said."They are a group that never gives up. I knew that they wouldn't tonight even when things weren't going well."
The expectation of victory was evident in their play, and the overall execution on both ends of the court – and at the free-throw line where they made 20 of 28 attempts – is a turning point for Dixon.
Ravlin, who is in his second season, knew when he accepted the position that one of the first things he would have to change was the attitude. After all, Dixon's girls haven't had a season with a winning record since 2003-04.
It seems like he can check attitude off the list of things to do.
While the Duchesses might not end up with the same result tonight when they run up against top seed Rochelle, there didn't seem to be a person in Dixon purple leaving Musgrove Fieldhouse feeling like they don't have a chance.
Even if they fall, they've taken a big step in 2012-13 – one that will ultimately help them get to the point where they'll enter regionals like this expecting to win with the seeding to back that up.