MENDOTA – Never mind that Mendota was the No. 1 seed at their home regional. Never mind that Rock Falls was the fifth seed.
When they met in their semifinal game Wednesday, a fearless Rock Falls team was closer than what the scoreboard showed, as Mendota moved on to the championship after knocking off the Rockets 64-43.
The Trojans (21-3) used a balanced attack to slowly build up their lead as the game wore on, as four players scored in double-figures. They also took advantage of Rocket foul trouble.
“We played hard,” Rock Falls coach Craig Mammosser said. “Their length obviously affected us. Bailey [Schrader] and Emily [Sauer], our two posts, getting into constant foul trouble the whole night didn’t help things out either.
“Mendota made it difficult for us to do anything offensively, and they executed very well on the offensive end.”
Despite her 5-foot-4 stature, Rock Falls junior Chelsi Blair made the most against the Trojans’ length. She hit four 3-pointers on the night, including a pair in the second quarter. This helped the Rockets (7-19) keep it close in the first half.
“Well, I’m short, so I don’t like to go into the middle,” Blair said. “But when I do, I just go up as hard as I can. We all put everything out there that we could. We wanted to win, but I really think that we put everything out there.”
Around the 3-minute mark of the second quarter, the Rockets got a shot off from the middle of the lane. It fell short, missing the rim and the net, and it headed out of bounds. But Sauer, a meere freshman, leaped after the loose ball, corralled it, and threw it behind her toward the left wing ... where it landed right in the welcoming hands of Blair.
After a slight hesitation, she fired up a 25-footer that found the bottom of the net. This cut Mendota’s lead to nine-points, at 28-19.
“I’ve been working on it all season,” Blair said. “I just had a good game, I guess.”
However, that was as close as the Rockets got the rest of the way. The Trojans’ height and length advantage was just too much to handle, as they ended the game with eight blocks.
“First half, I thought we were fine,” Mammosser said. “We were on the verge coming back a couple of times, and we just made a couple silly mistakes. Some costly turnovers. They’re too good of a team to do that against.”
As the turnovers added up for the Rockets, so did the score on the Mendota side. Rock Falls’ first four possessions in the second half resulted in turnovers, and Mendota used a 15-5 scoring edge in the period to nearly double their lead to 52-28.
Blair hit another pair of 3s in the fourth quarter, and finished with a game-high 18 points, but Mendota’s lead was too much for Rock Falls to manage a comeback.
“We played hard,” Mammosser reiterated. “I give the girls credit. The last two nights, we definitely haven’t played like a 7-19 team.”
Class 3A Mendota Regional semifinal
Mendota 64, Rock Falls 43
Star of the game: Chelsi Blair, RF, game-high 18 points, 4 3-pointers, 4-for-5 FTs
Key performers: Amy Devitt, Mendota, 18 points, 4 steals; Brook Carroll, Mendota, 14 points