POLO – Clinging to a one-point lead with 3 minutes left in the third quarter, Prophetstown struck.
Make that, Heather Strike struck.
First, the Prophets' junior guard drained a 3-pointer from the left wing. Moments later, she was fouled on another 3-point attempt and made all three free throws, propelling Prophetstown to a 50-41 win over Byron on Saturday evening in the championship game of the Polo Tournament.
Strike's quick six points, followed by teammate Corrie Reiley's driving bucket, suddenly gave the Prophets (12-2) a 35-26 lead with 1:45 left in the third quarter.
"When I was in the moment, I felt like I should shoot," said Strike, who scored a team-high 13 points. "If we're open, our coach [Don Robinson] tells us to shoot ... and I was open, so I shot it."
The Tigers (11-2) worked within four on five different occasions in the fourth quarter, but Prophetstown, which won its second straight Polo title, fended off each charge.
Byron cut it to four for the last time at 41-37, when 6-foot-2 junior Ellie Lehne hit one of two free throws with 1:17 to play.
The Prophets' Shelby Adams missed two free throws before a Tiger turnover. Lehne fouled out, and Adams hit two free throws with 48 seconds left, making it 47-41.
Byron's Mayson Whipple (15 points) missed a 3-pointer, and Prophetstown finished the scoring with a free throw from Clare Kramer and two more from Adams.
"The team, one through 11, is pretty balanced," Robinson said. "It was hard for me early in the year to decide who starts and who plays where, but they're starting to find their roles. I have confidence in all of them."
The Tigers scored the game's first five points, then fell behind, but led 16-11 after one quarter. Byron's last lead was 16-15 2 minutes into the second quarter.
The Prophets took the lead for good when Kassi Henrekin knocked down a 3-pointer from the right wing to make it 18-16 with 5:46 left in the first half. Prophetstown led 22-18 at the break.
Lehne scored a game-high 17 points, 15 coming in the second half. She was saddled with foul trouble in the first half. Lehne sat the last 2:04 of the first quarter after picking up her second foul.
"We've been playing with each other for a long time, so our team chemistry is really kicking in," said the 5-9 Kramer, who scored 12 points and had the task of containing Lehne. "It's not just one or two people scoring a lot. It's a balanced team effort."
Lehne returned at the 4:34 mark of the second quarter, but picked up her third foul just over a minute later, with 3:02 on the clock, and sat the remainder of the half.
Reiley contributed eight points, four assists and four steals. Adams scored all eight of her points in the second half, and pulled down six rebounds. The Prophets also got a solid performance from Karlie Stafford, who grabbed a team-high nine rebounds and scored six points.
Polo Tournament championship
Prophetstown 50, Byron 41
Star of the game: Heather Strike, Prophetstown, 13 points
Key performers: Ellie Lehne, Byron, 17 points; Mayson Whipple, Byron, 15 points; Clare Kramer, Prophetstown, 12 points, 4 rebounds
Up next: Prophetstown tournament, Prophetstown vs. West Carroll, 9 a.m. & Prophetstown vs. Rockford Christian, 7 p.m., both Thursday