FREEPORT – Sauk Valley learned how not to play the last time it took on Kennedy-King in women’s basketball.
The Skyhawks put those lessons to use in the third – and most important – meeting between the squads this season. Using a relentless inside attack, SVCC pounded out a 77-69 victory over the Statesmen on Monday in the championship game of the Region IV Tournament at Highland Community College.
It is the first region title since 2008 for Sauk (23-5).
“We’ve been building this for 4 years now, trying to get some nice local talent out here,” Sauk coach Jed Johnson said. “We did a great job of that. One of the goals at the beginning of the year was to win conference, and the second big one was the region.
“I was confident this group could do it, but they’re just not easy to get.”
The Skyhawks will now advance to the district tournament on Saturday in Devils Lake, N.D.
They will take on Lake Region State College, who won the Region 13 tournament championship Monday night.
Lake Region beat North Dakota State College of Science, 85-74 on Monday night. The winner between Sauk Valley and Lake Region advances to the NJCAA Division I national tournament slated for March 17-22 in Salina, Kansas.
The Skyhawks put themselves in that position by not repeating its strategy in a previous game against Kennedy-King. On Feb. 8, the Skyhawks ventured to Chicago and were handed a 79-75 defeat, in part because they chucked up 26 3-point attempts. Sauk won the first meeting between the teams, 82-53 on Jan. 11.
“I saw a lot of openings inside that we could have got touches instead of settling for 3s,” Johnson said of the Feb. 8 game. “We really emphasized getting it inside. Give credit to those big girls inside. When they get it, it’s pretty much down.”
Leading the scoring parade inside was Morgan Dean, a 6-foot-1 freshman from St. Bede. She hit all nine of her field goal attempts, and her only free throw, to finish with 19 points. She likely would have done more damage if not for getting into foul trouble.
“They give me the ball for a reason,” Dean said, “and I need to put up points.”
“Dean is a great player,” Kennedy-King coach Brittany Johnson said. “She just hit her sweet spot, and we couldn’t do anything with her.”
Sheldeen Joseph capped off a tournament MVP performance by finishing with 21 points, five rebounds and three steals. Most of her points were on drives into the lane, into the teeth of the Kennedy-King defense.
“We didn’t come out to play in that earlier game against them,” Joseph said. “After we watched the tape, we saw that we had to be ready to come out and play right from the beginning. That’s why we got the victory tonight.”
The leading scorer for the Skyhawks was Rock Falls grad Jordan Giddings, who bounced back from a 2-for-18 shooting performance Sunday night against Daley by tossing in 23 points on 8-for-15 shooting. She drained 5 of 8 3-point attempts, and SVCC was 5-for-12 as a team from long distance.
“Tonight, I just had to come out with a little more confidence,” Giddings said. “[Sunday], I was kind of down in the dumps, but today, I was really excited for this game. The energy is what gave me my offense.”
Sauk played just six players until the closing seconds of the game, and received solid contributions from their other core players.
Aleena Hammelman had a tough shooting night (0-for-6 from the field) and scored just five points, but she grabbed 11 rebounds and dished out 11 assists.
Jaimie Hurd played a strong floor game with five rebounds, five assists and four points.
Autumn Smith, who played 21 minutes due to Dean’s foul issues, contributed five points, five rebounds, four blocked shots and two steals.
Sauk Valley led by as many as 14 points (38-24) with 2 minutes, 43 seconds left in the first half after a pair of free throws from Joseph, but settled for a 40-29 lead at the break.
The Skyhawks quickly upped the lead to 52-34 with 16:29 remaining in the second half on a basket from Giddings, and were never threatened the rest of the way.
Antania Hayes, a 6-1 freshman from Chicago King H.S., did her best to keep Kennedy-King (19-9) in the game with 26 points, 19 rebounds, five steals, two assists and two blocked shots. Eight of those points, however, came in the last 30 seconds of the game, long after it had been decided.
Barbara Diamond hit 5 of 9 3-points and finished with 17 points for the Statesmen, and Kendra Wilson added 12 points.
Sauk Valley 77, Kennedy-King 69
Star of the game: Jordan Giddings, SV, 23 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists
Key performers: Sheldeen Joseph, SV, 21 points, 5 rebounds; Morgan Dean, SV, 19 points on 9-for-9 shooting; Antania Hayes, KK, 26 points, 19 rebounds
Up next: Sauk Valley vs. Lake Region, Saturday in Devils Lake, N.D.