ROCK FALLS – Rock Falls was in a zone, but it was nothing compared to when Sterling got into the zone.
The Golden Warriors overcame a slow start and pulled away from the Rockets down the stretch to post a 48-30 victory on Saturday night in the finale of the Sauk Valley Shootout.
Sterling won the event for the fourth time in the past 5 years, and 13th time overall. Posting five wins in 6 days brought a smile to the face of Golden Warriors coach Julie Schroeder.
“If I went though the week and put a highlight tape together,” Schroeder said, “I think I would be pretty pleased.”
It took about a quarter and a half for Sterling (5-0) to solve a 1-2-2 zone defense that Rock Falls coach Craig Mammosser put together the morning of the game. It was the first time the Rockets played zone defense this season, to better deal with the Warriors’ 1-2 inside combo of Kiarra Harris and Kaitlyn Bauer.
The only player Mammosser had to combat Harris and Bauer inside was 5-foot-10 junior Bailey Schrader, and she spent a good chunk of the game in foul trouble.
“There’s a reason we played zone for the first time tonight, and it’s because we couldn’t match up against them man-to-man,” Mammosser said. “Basketball is a game of match-ups, and they were quick, and they’ve got more size than we do. I give our girls credit.
“We didn’t even practice the 1-2-2. We just said, ‘Hey, this is what we’re going to do, so you’ve got to rotate and get to your spots.’ We did a good job with it, and for the most part stayed in the game because of that.”
Rock Falls (3-2) hit four 3-point baskets in the first 10 minutes of the game in seizing a 14-10 lead, forcing Schroeder to call a timeout. Sterling then went on a 12-0 run the rest of the quarter to seize a 22-14 halftime lead.
“Our key was to keep on running and not let their defense get to us,” Sterling point guard Gabby Sandoval said.
For Schrader, the timeout was to simply remind her players to run the offense.
“It wasn’t even so much get the ball inside,” Schroeder said. “It was run our offense to the best of our ability, that we know we’re successful at instead of jacking shots like there’s a shot clock. Rock Falls plays so hard, and they get you to do things you don’t do characteristically.”
Rock Falls hung around for a while in the second half, and was within 36-30 when reserve guard Bailie Smith hit a three with 5:30 remaining in the fourth quarter. It was all Sterling the rest of the way, however, as Harris and Bauer executed a virtual layup drill. They combined to go 7-for-7 in the final 8 minutes, turning a competitive game into a rout.
“The biggest thing they do well is they run the floor so well, and they know where one another are,” Schroeder said. “They’re great finishers around the basket. If our guards can find them, against a smaller team like Rock Falls, there’s no doubt we wanted them to touch the ball as much as possible.”
Harris led Sterling with 14 points, Bauer had 12, and Sandoval added 11. The Warriors owned a 34-20 advantage on the boards, with Harris (seven) leading the way.
Smith scored seven points to pace Rock Falls, while Dallas Clevenger added six. Mammosser thought his team got off to a good start in the Shootout, with three wins, and losses to powerful teams from Sherrard and Sterling.
“We’re further along than I thought we’d be,” Mammosser said, “and I’m happy, because we ended the tournament with a good effort. This wasn’t an 18-point game. It was more like an 8, 10-point game, and I really think we did some good things all week.”
Star of the game: Kiarra Harris, Sterling, 14 points, 7 rebounds
Key performers: Kaitlyn Bauer, Sterling, 12 points, 5 rebounds; Bailie Smith, Rock Falls, 7 points
Up next: Sycamore at Sterling, 7 p.m. Dec. 3; Marengo at Rock Falls, 7:15 p.m. Nov. 30