Rachel Hageman didn't have much success going against girls from bigger schools during her days at Newman.
Her last game representing Newman, however, helped take away some of that sting.
Hageman finished with 16 points, eight rebounds and three assists to lead the Telegraph squad to a 56-51 victory over the Gazette in the Sauk Valley Media All-Star Classic on Thursday at Sauk Valley Community College. Six of the 10 Gazette team members were from either Sterling or Rock Falls.
"We've always had a rivalry with them in the Sauk Valley Shootout, and in the summer," said Hageman, who earned MVP honors for her efforts. "It was so fun to actually beat them, because we never really did. It was fun to beat the people from the big schools."
The Telegraph squad led by six (20-14) at halftime, seven (36-29) after three quarters and by as many as 12 (45-33) after a basket by Hageman with 6 minutes, 10 seconds remaining, before things got interesting.
The Gazette went on a 9-0 run over the next 2 minutes to get to within 45-42, only to see the Telegraph respond with a 5-0 surge to make it 50-42 with just over 2 minutes to play.
Gazette coach Craig Mammosser shortened his player rotation down the stretch, substituting offense for defense in dead ball situations, and his squad gradually climbed back into the game.
One of his better defenders, Aubree Johnson, came up with a loose ball and put the ball in the basket with 37 seconds remaining, apparently bringing the Gazette to within four points at 54-50. The basket was waved off, however, as Mammosser had called timeout.
"Aubree is a go-getter," Mammosser said. "She's all over the place, and the one time she makes a shot, I call my last timeout. That didn't work out really well. I told her, 'If I hadn't called that timeout, you'd have shot the ball over the basket.'"
Three free throws from Cassie Reiley brought the Gazette to within 54-51 with 22.7 seconds left, but the Telegraph responded with a free throw from Hannah Erickson with 21 seconds to play.
The Gazette's last gasp came in the form of a wide-open 3-point attempt from Sterling sharpshooter Stephanie Kester, but it caught the back iron to leave the score at 55-51 with 13 seconds remaining.
"It looked like it could be in," Kester said. "It would have been great if it was, but oh well, it was OK."
"I was behind a pick," Hageman said, "and I got really nervous for a second. When I saw [Kester] barely missed it, it was kind of a miracle, honestly. She's so good at 3s."
Hageman's teammate at Newman, Jaimie Hurd, finished with 12 points, four rebounds and two steals, while another Comet, Erickson, added eight points. Aleetra Roberts of Polo finished with seven points and four rebounds, while Autumn Smith of Amboy added six points and five boards.
Telegraph coach Kay Dobbs was only familiar with one of her players, Rochelle guard Christina Williams, and enjoyed seeing what the small-school talent on her team had to offer.
"For each of their schools, these girls were standouts, and I think that really showed down the stretch," Dobbs said. "Kids hit big shots, because they're used to doing it for their schools. It makes it fun for a coach, because you don't just have one or two go-to players. You've got a bunch of kids who are used to playing that role."
Rock Falls' Morgan Mammosser paced the Gazette squad with 11 points, eight rebounds, five assists and two steals. Prophetstown's Reiley finished with nine points, while Kester and Sterling's McKenna Pearson each added eight points.
The Gazette finished just 18-for-62 from the field and 11-for-24 from the free-throw line, but committed just 12 turnovers to the Telegraph's 20, and racked up 14 steals to the Telegraph's six.
"We didn't shoot the ball well at all," coach Mammosser said, "but in the end, we started to play defense. We scored 37 points in the second half, and most of them were off steals and layups. That kept us in it, but the big thing with this game was to have fun and to compete.
"I think all the girls in this game did that, and it was fun to be a part of it."
Star of the game: Rachel Hageman, Telegraph, 16 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists
Key performers: Jaimie Hurd, Telegraph, 12 points, 4 rebounds, 2 steals; Morgan Mammosser, Gazette, 11 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists; Cassie Reiley, Gazette, 9 points, 3 rebounds