AMBOY – The AFC Raiders scored the first four points of Wednesday's 1A Amboy Regional semifinal against Erie.
The lead wasn't the norm in a game where AFC had to play catch-up for much of the night. The Raiders nearly pulled out the comeback victory, but Erie held on for a 54-48 victory.
Erie advances to play Amboy in the regional championship at 7 p.m. tonight. Erie has not won a regional title since 1985.
Both teams were aggressive on defense, and they took turns cashing in offensively from that agressiveness.
After jumping out to a 4-0 lead, the Raiders stalled on offense. Erie (20-9) took advantage, as sophomore Rachel Cobert took a rebound coast-to-coast to give the Cardinals the lead. The points were part of a 14-2 run the Cardinals closed the first quarter on.
However, AFC (14-12) would not go away.
"It seems to be that's how our season was – up and down – but we hang in there," AFC coach Chris Jahn said. "Anytime we've been down this year, the girls have battled back. Down 10 in the first half, I knew we were going to make a run, and we did tighten it up by halftime."
With a 20-10 lead, Erie looked like it was in the driver's seat. Radiers junior Alisyn Essex hit a pair of 3s and added another jumper to contribute eight points in a 10-0 run to knot the score at 20.
"I just figured we had a lot of bad foul issues in that second quarter," Erie coach Brian Howell said. "I told the girls we just had to calm down, relax, and we will be fine. We will win this game. We have a lead, play through the fouls, and we will be OK."
Erie senior Bailee Classen got the ball on the left wing with time winding down in the half. As the AFC student section tried to trick her into shooting it early by prematurely counting down, she frantically looked for help. As the students neared one, she fired up a 3-pointer that found the bottom of the net to give the Cardinals a 24-22 lead.
Both teams had key players rack up four fouls in the third quarter in junior Allison Prestegaard for AFC and Rachel Cobert for Erie. It was Cobert, who was able to take advantage of notorious shot-blocker Prestegaard on the bench.
Cobert had three baskets before she picked up her fourth, and tacked on a free throw after absorbing contact from Prestegaard – her fourth foul.
"We have our big Allison Prestegaard down low," Jahn said, "who got some cheap fouls tonight. But it allows us to extend our defense, because we can let people go by. If we go for a steal and miss, she's in there. She's high up in the state for blocked shots, and that's why we play that style of defense, and she allows that."
"I saw her stats in the paper, and I knew she was leading in blocked shots," Rachel Cobert said. "It was pretty intimidating coming in and seeing that she's 6-3 and blocks all those shots. But we worked a lot in practice about up-and-under moves and looking cross-court when she's in our face."
After a turnover, Erie sophomore Emily Cox was able to retrieve a loose ball and sling back to Rachel Cobert under the basket for an easy bucket. The points gave Erie a 10-point lead at 39-29 going into the fourth quarter.
"We have been working a lot on defense," Rachel Cobert said. "I think we did a good job, moreso in the second half, in forcing them into bad passes and getting turnovers. We have a really deep bench and were subbing people in and out all game. We can put anyone in, and we can score, play tough defense, run offense, and execute what we're doing on the floor."
The Raiders came within five points at the 3:10 mark. But, Erie kept its composure as AFC was forced to foul. Senior Courtney Cobert went 9-for-9 from the line the final 5 minutes to seal the win.