KEWANEE – Tangling with Amboy for a third time turned out to be a royal Payne for AFC.
The Raiders, who had beaten the Clippers twice in the regular season, went ice cold down the stretch and dropped a 45-37 decision on Wednesday night in a Class 1A Wethersfield Regional semifinal.
Amboy will now take on the host Flying Geese for a regional title tonight. That was made possible due in large part to the play of Abi Payne, a 5-foot-6 freshman making her first varsity start. She sliced through the AFC defense for 25 points on 8-for-17 shooting.
“I was very nervous,” Payne said. “I was shaking, my heart was beating – it was so scary.”
Amboy (14-13) took a familiar strategy to defend AFC (18-9), and it worked perfectly. The Clippers sagged in on the Prestegaard sisters, 6-3 senior Madeline and 6-0 junior Jaynee, and dared the rest of the team to step up.
Jaynee had 15 points and 19 rebounds, while Madeline had eight points and seven boards before fouling out late. No other Raider made more than one basket or scored more than three points.
“We wish there would have been some fouls on the shots instead of on the floor,” Madeline Prestegaard said. “I think that would have changed the pace of the game at important times. [Amboy coach Mike] McCracken’s probably watched 500 hours of film of us just this year.
“They played good defense, but on a different night, we probably could have taken it. It wasn’t our night.”
McCracken’s inside players stood firm against the Prestegaards, with Noelle Jones (13 rebounds) doing a lot of the heavy lifting.
The rest of the Raiders were a combined 5-for-35 from the field.
“At times it looked like it wasn’t going to work, but we stuck with it,” McCracken said. “We did a little bit of bit of everything, and whatever it takes, that’s what we were going to do.”
Amboy trailed by eight points (11-3) early before finally catching AFC at 28-28 with 2 minutes to go in the third quarter on a basket from reserve guard Ashley Althaus. Another bucket from Althaus early in the fourth quarter gave the Clippers their first lead at 36-34, and they pulled away from there.
AFC missed its first 11 shots of the final quarter before Camdyn Penick banked in a 3 with 37.7 seconds to play to draw her team to within five points (42-37). Penick missed another 3 with 23 seconds to go that could have made it a one-possession game.
Payne’s two free throws with 20.6 seconds to go closed out the scoring.
Mallory Powers, like Payne a freshman, finished with seven points for Amboy, and Althaus added six points and seven boards.
1A Wethersfield Regional semifinal
Amboy 45, AFC 37
Star of the game: Abi Payne, Amboy, 25 points
Key performers: Jaynee Prestegaard, AFC, 15 points, 19 rebounds; Noelle Jones, Amboy, 13 rebounds
Up next: Amboy at Wethersfield, 7 p.m. tonight