FORRESTON – The Eastland Cougars have the right mindset heading into their sectional championship, after defeating the Galena Pirates 42-32.
Eastland (26-5) played tight defense right off the batt and forced turnovers in a very high-energy environment.
A large portion of those forced turnovers turned right back into Galena (16-10) possessions. The turnovers piled up quickly in the first half, as the two teams combined for 27 turnovers.
"I would give a whole lot of credit to the Galena Pirates," Eastland coach Colleen Henze said, "who graduate absolutely no one. We couldn't get defensive rebounds at all, we couldn't control the boards.
"Offensively, we just had to turn the ball over way too many times for a veteran team. I'm sure they're disappointed in that because that's the kind of group they are, even though they're playing in the sectional final. They know their performance needs to be better."
Eastland won the turnover battle in the first half, as they only committed 11 turnovers compared to the Pirates' 16.
Part of the Eastland turnover victory in the first half was thanks in part to cool, calm, and collected senior Izy Todd. She slowed things down at the point, and often reset the offense instead of trying to force things when the going got rough. She also added a team-high 4 assists.
"We're not really used to playing in front of so many people," Todd said. "It was exciting, but overwhelming at times. I just tried to take the ball and calm everyone down, make sure everyone's supposed to be where they should be."
With 2:30 left in the second quarter, Galena junior Gabriela Salgado got a steal at the top of the key and hesitated before she made her move down the court. This hesitation allowed time for the Cougars' defense to set up. As Salgado barreled down the lane, Todd met her on the block.
Todd ended up taking a charge.
On the ensuing Eastland possession, Todd was rewarded with a jump shot that found nothing but the bottom of the net. This four-point swing of events ultimately helped give the Cougars their 16-13 halftime lead. She finished with six points, all in the first half.
"I wasn't really expecting the charge," Todd said. "I was thinking I was going to get called for the block. But getting the charge fired everyone up, and getting the basket on the other end just helped it out even more."
The Pirates came out swinging in the second half, as they opened up the third quarter on a 4-0 run to take a 17-16 lead.
"It was a little nip and tuck there for a little bit," Henze said. "But I think they should be proud of the fact that they survived in a game like that, especially with how much we did turn it over."
After a timeout, seniors Hannah Hake and Megan Janssen responded to lead the Cougars during a 7-0 run.
First, Janssen found Hake free underneath the basket for a layup.
After a missed shot on the ensuing Eastland possession, Galena coralled the rebound.
Hake forced a Galena turnover and turned around to find an open Janssen cutting to the hoop for an easy layup to return the favor.
"Usually, you're supposed to get back, but I was mad," Hake said. "So, I was going to go for it. I anticipated it, and got it. I wasn't going to dribble, because that would've been a turnover. She [Janssen] is pretty quick, and usually we pass to each other pretty well on stuff like that. I count on her, because I know she'll make it."
The Pirates closed the gap to 27-24 early in the fourth.
Senior MIranda Grisham righted the ship for Eastland by hitting a baseline jumper. Hake added a pair of free throws at the 3:41 mark to give the Cougars a 35-26 lead, which started a barrage of Galena fouls.
Star of the game: Hannah Hake, Eastland, 14 points, 8 rebounds.
Key performers: Izy Todd, Eastland, 6 points, 4 steals, 4 assists. Gabriela Salgado, Galena, 8 points, 5 rebounds.