ROCK FALLS – A big opening quarter proved to be the difference Friday for Oregon in a 63-55 Big Northern West victory over Rock Falls.
Emylyn Wright was key for the Hawks' (16-9, 6-4 Big Northern) fast start. The junior guard hit a pair of 3s, completed a three-point play, and added another jumper to score 11 of Oregon's 18 points in the first quarter.
"She's really an outstanding athlete," Oregon coach Kristy Eckardt said. "She's not very tall, but she does play a lot bigger than what she is. When she's hitting shots and getting steals on defense, we know we are in good shape."
Despite Oregon's hot start, Rock Falls (6-15, 1-7 Big Northern) did all it could to hang around. Junior forward Bailey Schrader scored all eight first-quarter points for the Rockets.
A more balanced effort in the second quarter for Rock Falls led to a rally. A pair of free throws from junior guard Bailie Smith pulled the Rockets within two at 23-21 with 3 minutes left in the half.
"I don't think we came out ready," Schrader said. "But once we realized the pressure that was on us, we started playing hard. I think that was the best game we've played so far. We had some girls with specific roles, and they did a great job of covering them."
Oregon's reliable senior guard Sam Lambrigtsen quickly answered Smith's basket to calm the storm, sparking an 8-0 run to close the half. This gave Oregon a 31-21 lead at the break.
"I thought we did well," Wright said. "But we also kind of slowed down and let them get in the game. But I thought we played well against them defensively, and knew that they were going into the post. They fought back, and we were kind of relaxing. We needed to play harder, and that's what we did to get the lead back where it was."
A three-point play right out of the gate for the Lambrigtsen extended the lead. But once again, the Rockets refused to go down that easily.
"We showed some confidence out there shooting the basketball," Rock Falls coach Craig Mammosser said. "We worked together and played hard, and we knocked down shots and looked confident out there while doing so."
A layup as the buzzer sounded to end the third quarter by Rock Falls senior Danica Fortune pulled her team within five points.
A dogfight ensued in the fourth, as teams exchanged small runs.
With the Hawks leading 52-48, senior McKaylee Beeter got free and knocked down her only basket of the night. The mid-range jumper swung things back in the Hawks' favor.
Lambrigtsen was a perfect 8-for-8 from the free-throw line in the final minutes to put the game away.
Star of the Game: Emylyn Wright, Oregon, 19 points, 5 rebounds, 4 steals
Key performers: Bailey Schrader, Rock Falls, 15 points, 13 rebounds. Sam Lambirgsten, Oregon, 29 points