STERLING – Eastland’s hopes of a second straight girls basketball regional title were on life support, and Prophetstown appeared on its way to extending the life of its program at least another few days while adding one last regional crown to the already-packed trophy case.
But Eastland turned up the pressure on defense, the 3-pointers started to fall from Erin Henze, and Eastland’s 24 fourth-quarter points led the Cougars to a 48-40 win in the finals of the 1A Newman Regional on Friday.
The Prophets led 30-17 until Henze hit the second of her five 3-pointers in the second half with 3:27 left in the third. That came at the start of a stretch where Prophetstown turned the ball over 11 times in the span of 13 trips down the floor.
“Our defense in the first half was not good at all,” Henze said. “I think we just came out [in the second half] with a lot more intensity in our press and our half-court defense, and that picked up our momentum on offense as well.”
Henze had four steals during that stretch. Lydia Coatney stole the ball twice. Erykah Ames and Katie Krogman also grabbed steals.
But Prophetstown also turned the ball over on a traveling violation and an over-and-back call. It was part of a 17-turnover second half for the Prophets, who attempted just 13 shots from the field over the final 16 minutes.
“We got ahead of ourselves and started playing at their pace more,” Prophetstown senior Dena Johnson said.
Prophetstown still led 34-24 to open the fourth quarter, but the Eastland defense was still clicking and the offense started to follow suit. An Ames steal led to a Coatney layup. Henze hit a 3-pointer, then picked up a steal and hit another. Krogman added a putback, and with 4:58 left in the game, Eastland tied it 34-34 with a 10-0 run.
Prophetstown briefly regained the lead thanks to a Hannah McKinney jumper and a basket from Johnson, but Eastland answered again.
Henze hit a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to one, then was fouled attempting another and converted two of her three free throws, putting the Cougars in front with 1:14 left, Eastland’s first lead since early in the second quarter.
In the final 1:14, Eastland (26-5) iced the game by shooting 7-for-9 from the free-throw line, and one of those misses was rebounded and put back by Jordan Miller.
“We were just strong,” Katie Krogman said. “We were mentally tough, and we knew we could come back. That’s what we did in the fourth quarter, we just chipped away. Each of us got points and we got steals and we just ran with it. We’re a team that, once we get the momentum, you’re done.”
Prophetstown (18-10) led 7-6 after one quarter following a 3-pointer from Johnson. Eastland briefly jumped in front on a Karlie Krogman basket, but Prophetstown soon answered with a three-point play by Courtney Pierceson.
Five offensive rebounds in a six-possession span of the second quarter led to seven Prophetstown points, and helped the Prophets build a 21-12 lead.
“We had a lot of confidence in our offense, in our ability to crash the boards,” Prophetstown coach Kara Bumsted said. “The first half was just 100 percent confidence, and just hustle.”
Johnson had eight of her team-high 12 points in the first half. Pierceson had seven points in the half and 10 for the game.
“We were in an offense called spread, where we had everyone spread out on the arc,” Johnson said. “We spread our offense out and kind of just went at our pace. That really helped us slow down the game and pretty much do what we wanted to do.”
Prophetstown’s defense also helped build the early lead. Playing a triangle-and-two on Henze and Coatney, the Prophets held the two Cougar guards to two points each in the first half.
With Prophetstown switching to a box-and-one on Coatney in the second half, Henze broke loose, hitting five 3-pointers on her way to a 20-point night.
“It was nice to finally be making some of them,” she said. “I was open and figured I might as well shoot it.”
For Prophetstown, it was the final game before the girls basketball co-op with Erie begins next season. The program that won 15 regional titles and made two trips to state, taking second in Class 2A in 2014 and third in Class 1A in 2015, closed its doors by pushing the top seed in the sub-sectional and defending regional champion to the brink.
“A lot of people didn’t think that we would have as much success as we did this year, even to be playing in the regional championship against Eastland,” Johnson said. “I think a lot of people are impressed, and I think we’ve left an imprint on the program.”
Eastland moves on to face Stockton in the semifinal of the 1A Aquin Sectional on Tuesday.
For Katie Krogman, it was a second regional title in basketball, to go with the four she won during her volleyball career.
“It never gets old,” she said. “It’s such a rush, and to see our fans cheering it up, it’s such a great feeling. That will never get old.”
1A Newman Regional final
Eastland 48, Prophetstown 40
Star of the game: Erin Henze, Eastland, 20 points, 5 rebounds, 7 steals
Key performers: Dena Johnson, Prophetstown, 12 points, 6 rebounds; Courtney Pierceson, Prophetstown, 10 points, 6 rebounds; Lydia Coatney, Eastland, 8 points, 3 steals
Up next: 1A Aquin Sectional, Eastland vs. Stockton, 7 p.m. Tuesday