DIXON – On a day when little was falling for the Newman girls basketball team, the final miss was the cruelest of them all.
Jenna Johnson’s short jumper in the lane danced on the rim before falling away, allowing Sterling to come away with a 42-40 win over the Comets in a Dixon Holiday Tournament consolation bracket game on Thursday at Reagan Middle School.
For the Golden Warriors (5-14), it avoided an overtime session they did not want, considering they led most of the way, and lost an overtime game to Newman in the Sauk Valley Shootout back on Nov. 15.
“At the end of the day, the most important thing right now is our kids fought hard enough to come out with a W, even in a game that just wasn’t pretty,” Sterling coach Taylor Jackson said. “They fought hard, they fought all the way through, and that’s what we’ve been challenging them to do.”
“It was really nice to be able finish this game, unlike the last game,” sophomore guard Grace Gould added. “I think we played hard the whole game. Here and there, we let them go on a few runs, but for the most part, we played good defense.”
Sterling withstood a host of surges by Newman before seemingly putting the game on ice after two free throws from Gretchen Gould with 32 seconds remaining upped the Warriors’ lead to 42-36. The Comets, however, were far from done.
With 22 seconds to go, Johnson drilled a 3-pointer to cut the margin in half.
Sterling’s Josi Borum was then fouled with 9.6 seconds to go, but she missed the front end of a 1-and-1, and Newman was in business.
With 7 seconds to go, Newman’s Chloe Klein missed from about 10 feet, but teammate Madison Craft came up the rebound and was fouled by Borum. With 4.2 seconds to go, Craft hit the first free throw to make it 42-40, but she missed the second.
Newman’s Johnson and Sterling’s Gabbi Schilling fought for the rebound, and a jump ball was called with 2 seconds to go, with the possession arrow favoring the Comets.
After timeouts by both teams, they took the court for the final play. On the baseline, Klein inbounded the ball to Johnson, who caught the ball in traffic, put up a shot from about 5 feet, and then tumbled to the court. The ball caught the side of the rim and hung there for an instant before falling away, sealing the Sterling win.
“I was really hoping to God,” Johnson said. “I said a prayer right before I went out on the court, and I was hoping that it went in. I kept looking when I was lying on the court, trying to see if it went in, but it didn’t. I was upset that it didn’t go in, but that’s OK.”
Newman coach Joe Salvatori drew up a play that was designed to go one of two places: to a guard for an open jumper on the wing, or inside to a post player.
“It worked,” Salvatori said. “We got the shot off, and it was a good shot, but it just didn’t fall.”
Both squads struggled to find the range. Newman was 13-for-59 from the field, for a frigid 22 percent shooting. Craft led the way with 18 points, including five 3-pointers, but she was just 6-for-20 from the field.
Sterling, meanwhile, wasn’t much better with 17-for-54 shooting (31 percent). That was lights-out compared to the Warriors’ performance from the free-throw line, where they made a mere 8 of 29 shots (27 percent).
“Our free throws kept them in the game,” Grace Gould said. “At some points, we’d let them go on runs, and then we’d get fouls and miss our free throws. Free throws were the biggest part that kept them in the game.”
Jackson is hoping her team’s struggles in that department are temporary.
“I think today was a fluke with that,” she said. “Our free-throw percentage has gotten better – we just did not shoot well from the free-throw line. That was frustrating, but we’ll get back in the gym and get better at that.”
Gretchen Gould, Grace Gould and Borum each scored 10 points for Sterling, and Schilling added nine. Borum also stuffed the stat sheet with 14 rebounds, four steals and two blocks, but was also the main culprit at the free-throw line, where she made just 2 of 12.
Dixon Holiday Tournament
Sterling 42, Newman 40
Star of the game: Madison Craft, Newman, 18 points, 3 rebounds, 2 steals
Key performers: Josi Borum, Sterling, 10 points, 14 rebounds, 4 steals, 2 blocks; Gretchen Gould, Sterling, 10 points, 10 rebounds
Up next: Sterling vs. Rochelle, 9:30 a.m. today; Sterling vs. United Township, 11:30 a.m. today; Newman vs. Rochelle, 1 p.m. today (all at Reagan M.S.)