AMBOY – Practice didn't quite mean perfect for the Amboy girls basketball team, but it was good enough to get the job done against Polo.
The Clippers managed just enough offense, and slowed down Marcos' standout KeeLey Meyer on their way to a 49-26 victory on Wednesday night in an 1A Amboy Regional semifinal.
Amboy will take on Erie, a 54-48 winner against AFC in the second semifinal, in the title game tonight at 7 p.m.
The Clippers (19-6) endured one of their worst offensive performances of the season the first time they played Polo, on Jan. 29. Amboy was 7-for-53 from the field in that game, and didn't make a field goal in the second half – a performance that head coach Mike McCracken attributed to not practicing for 8 days due to bad weather.
This time around, the Clippers were 16-for-50, with junior guard Kennedy Dinges leading the way with 13 points on 5-for-9 shooting.
"We just shot better," McCracken said. "We didn't shoot as well as we'd like, but at least we're getting back to where we were before all the bad weather."
The Clippers led 8-4 after one quarter, then seized control with a 7-0 burst in the first minute of the second period capped by a 3-pointer from freshman guard Delaney Wilhelm.
A last-second basket by Dinges gave the Clippers a 23-13 halftime lead, and extended the advantage by going on an 8-2 run to start the third quarter.
Polo's Madison Merdian and Paige Lust hit 3-pointers to get their team within 39-24 with 5:27 left in the fourth quarter, but the Clippers hit 10 of 16 free throws in the final 5:26 to put the game on ice.
Kaitlyn Liebing was a force inside for Amboy with 14 rebounds and nine points, and Wilhelm added eight points.
Meyer scored 10 points and grabbed 12 rebounds to lead Polo, and was the focus of the Amboy defense. She was 5-for-12 from the field, while the rest of the Marcos were 5-for-27.
"They run their whole game through her," Dinges said. "We knew we had to get someone in front, get someone in back, and get to their shooters."
"Meyer got loose about three times boxing out," McCracken said. "She just goes and gets a rebound very well, but I thought we did a good job overall defensively."
The Marcos (2-26) won just once in the regular season, against Pecatonica on Dec. 7, but were riding high after knocking off Milledgeville, a team they had lost to four times this season, in the regional's first round on Monday.
That is something head coach Jeff Grobe hopes to build on for next season.
"They played like a different team than I've coached all year," Grobe said. "I just told them if you play with that kind of intensity, good things will happen next year. I've got eight players coming back, and that's a good thing."
For Amboy, the future is now. They are seeking their first regional title since 1990, when McCracken was the boys coach at Amboy and his daughter, Shauna, now his assistant, was a player.
The Clippers will have to go through Erie, a team they defeated twice in the regular season – 46-41 on Dec. 9 and 36-20 on Jan. 20. The Cardinals haven't won a regional since 1985.
"Everyone's hungry for it," Dinges said, "but we know we have to want it the most."
Star of the game: Kennedy Dinges, Amboy, 13 points
Key performers: Kaitlyn Liebing, Amboy, 14 rebounds, 9 points; KeeLey Meyer, Polo, 12 rebounds, 10 points
Up next: Championship game, Amboy vs. Erie, 7 p.m. tonight