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Prophets, Cougars ready to keep postseason runs rolling

Psyched for supers

Prophetstown players hoist up the 2A Aurora Christian Sectional championship plaque on Thursday. The Prophets and the Eastland Cougars both play in supersectional games today. The Prophets play in Monmouth. Eastland plays in DeKalb.
Prophetstown players hoist up the 2A Aurora Christian Sectional championship plaque on Thursday. The Prophets and the Eastland Cougars both play in supersectional games today. The Prophets play in Monmouth. Eastland plays in DeKalb.

When you're on a roll like the Prophetstown or Eastland girls basketball teams, 3 days off between games – and the loss of momentum that comes with it – aren't always welcome.

But the Prophets and Cougars really don't think that's going to be an issue going into their supersectional games tonight.

"I think after the last two games, going to overtime and the last possession, that's going to put some fire in our belly," Prophetstown junior center Clare Kramer said. "Hopefully that momentum won't run out, and we can carry it into the supersectional … and maybe even state, which is the ultimate dream."

While the Prophets (29-2) overcame comeback bids by Oregon and Byron to win the 2A Aurora Christian Sectional title, the Cougars (27-5) claimed the 1A Forreston Sectional crown thanks to a free throw with no time left on the clock in overtime to beat Amboy.

And, like Kramer and her teammates, Eastland coach Colleen Finn-Henze feels the problem won't be carrying over the good feelings … but maybe carrying them over too much.

"These girls are so young and have so much energy and enthusiasm, the toughest thing might be amping it back," Finn-Henze said. "If they're too excited, too anxious, maybe they force things too much."

Both teams practiced over the weekend, and both Finn-Henze and Prophetstown coach Don Robinson spent some time watching film while putting their players through some shooting and defensive drills to try to get them re-energized and refocused.

And focus is a must when teams get to within one win of the state tournament.

"It cracked me up, because the girls were asking me, 'Is the next team good?'" Finn-Henze said with a laugh. "I told them I don't think you can get to a supersectional if you're not."

Eastland will travel to DeKalb High School and face Hinckley-Big Rock (18-13), who went on a pair of third-quarter runs to put away victories at the Harvest Christian Sectional. HBR won back-to-back 1A state titles in 2009 and '10, have won eight straight regional crowns, and have claimed four sectional championships in the last six seasons.

This year's Royals are led by stat-sheet stuffers Lauren Paver and Jacqueline Madden. Paver scored 57 points in their two sectional wins, including 38 in a 65-42 semifinal victory over Morgan Park. Madden had 11 steals in that game, then added 10 points and five steals in a 55-31 title-game win over Luther North.

"They kind of look a lot like us," Finn-Henze said. "They like to get out and press, get pressure and get after the ball in their halfcourt defense, and get out on the fast break. I see a lot of their tendencies, both good and bad, as very similar to ours.

"They have a strong tradition, they're obviously well-coached, and they play hard. But our girls play hard, too, and I think it's going to be a battle on every possession."

Prophetstown is also expecting a dogfight at the 2A Monmouth Supersectional, as it will square off against El Paso-Gridley (25-3), which placed third at state a year ago. The Titans defeated Sherrard 49-47 in double-overtime in the 2A Fieldcrest Sectional final.

Just as it was during that state run last season, EPG is led by 5-foot-7 guard Rebekah Ehresman and 5-foot-10 center Codee Schlipf. Both are 4-year varsity starters, and they provide a potent 1-2 punch in the backcourt and frontcourt.

Ehresman is a Wendy's High School Heisman winner who can score in a variety of ways, as well as handle the ball, run the offense and hit the boards. Schlipf is more comfortable around the basket, and is comparable to Byron's star junior Ellie Lehne, whom the Prophets just saw Thursday.

"We're going to have to do a lot of help-side work on defense," Prophetstown junior guard Corrie Reiley said, "really try and limit what their point guard can create and what their post player gets inside. We're also going to need to knock down some shots if we want to keep this run going."

Robinson said the key for the Prophets will be to keep the ball moving quickly, and "be willing to risk a shot" when someone gets open. It will also be imperative for his team to not lose their composure against EPG's relentless, aggressive defense.

But that's something the Prophetstown players have complete confidence that they can do. After seeing the athletic, in-your-face defenders of the Hawks and Tigers last week, the Prophets feel like they're ready for whatever the Titans throw at them.

"We have to keep our heads on straight, just stay calm and do what we're supposed to do," senior forward Karlie Stafford said. "I'm really not ready for the season to be over, and I know my teammates feel the same way, so we want to make this last as long as we can."

Keeping the status quo on and off the court is key, and it's worked so far for both teams. Eastland has employed its game plan nicely en route to the program's third sectional title, and Prophetstown has stuck to its guns during its run to the program's second sectional crown.

The key for each team is the same: play their game, don't try to do too much, and give it everything they've got for 32 minutes.

"We just have to play the way we know how," Prophetstown junior forward Shelby Adams said, more than likely echoing the sentiments of the Cougars' players. "We have to keep playing together, keep filling our roles, and keep trusting each other.

"It's a good feeling to get wins over good teams last week, and if we can make plays and finish strong again [tonight], I think state might be in our future."

Supersectional schedule

1A DeKalb

Who: Eastland (27-5) vs. Hinckley-Big Rock (18-13)

When: 7 p.m. today

Where: DeKalb High School

2A Monmouth

Who: Prophetstown (29-2) vs. El Paso-Gridley (25-3)

When: 7 p.m. today

Where: Monmouth College's Multipurpose Activity Center

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