DIXON – The stifling defense of the Rockford Lutheran girls basketball team got turned up a notch in the second half, and the Crusaders were able to come from behind to beat Dixon 42-39 in the finals of the 3A Dixon Regional on Friday at Lancaster Gym.
The Duchesses led by 10 after a quarter, led by as many as eight in the second half, then made just one shot from the field the rest of the way as Lutheran stormed back.
Lutheran led 42-37 with 35.2 seconds left before Kira Goral hit a pair of free throws and Abby Guthrie grabbed a steal to get the Duchesses one final chance to tie the game with 3.5 seconds left.
Senior guard Britney Pitzer took the inbounds pass at the top of the key and had a clean look to tie the game, but her shot was offline.
“We got what we wanted,” Dixon coach Luke Ravlin said. “We ran Kira off a two-screen knowing they would probably switch and jump that. We threw it over the top to Brit, hoping they would have switched off of her. She was open. The pass was on point. She got a look at a 3, which is what we needed to tie. It went how we wanted, it just didn’t go how we wanted.”
PItzer’s drive to the basket and a free throw from Emily Lynch gave Dixon a 34-26 lead late in the third. But the Duchesses went 1-for-9 shooting from the field and shot 1-for-4 from the free throw line from that point on, twice missing the front end of a one-and-one.
In the meantime, Ambranette Storr closed the third quarter with a layup, and Lutheran got a putback from Lauren Sprangler and a 3-pointer and a pair of free throws from Madison Davis early in the fourth to tie the game 35-35, then moments later took the lead on a putback by Storr.
Goral tied the game with 1:55 to play on a drive to the basket, but Storr again put Lutheran in front with 1:08 left.
Storr was held scoreless in the first quarter and had a pair of baskets in the second before scoring 11 points in the second half.
“She’s a great driver,” Pitzer said. “Props to her, she’s got great moves, great skill, and it’s hard to defend a great player like that.”
Dixon (24-7) led 23-15 at halftime, but Lutheran’s press helped get the Crusaders withintwo early in the third quarter and within a point at 27-26 later in the third.
“I told the girls to take some risks, get up and trap, don’t let them just walk down with the ball and shoot a 3-pointer,” Lutheran coach Joni Carlson said.
That trap also changed the pace, and the normally methodical Dixon was forced to get into some running. That played to Lutheran’s advantage.
“They tried speeding us up, speeding the tempo of the game, and it got to us a little bit,” Pitzer said.
Lutheran (21-10) used its defense to get after Dixon in the half-court sets more in the second half. The Duchesses often encountered Crusaders cutting off passing lanes and driving lanes and forcing Dixon guards to pull things back out and reset.
“We ran them off the 3-point line,” Storr said. “In the first half, they were running off the screens and hitting us with the 3-pointer and the back cut. We just stepped it up.”
Dixon started to pull away again later in the third, working the ball in to Madelyn Chesley in the paint for a pair of baskets and getting a layup from Pitzer to make it 33-26.
Pitzer’s 10 points led the Duchesses, with seven of those coming in the second quarter.
“Nothing I haven’t seen before,” Ravlin said of his senior guard. “Britney’s an incredible player. Her hard work, her dedication and her heart is incredible. She just went out there and played like Britney Pitzer.”
Dixon couldn’t miss early, hitting 5 of its first 6 shots from the field and building a 16-6 lead. The Duchesses had a 14-2 run in the first quarter on drives from Lynch and Avery Fox, a 3-pointer from Caylyn Kimmel and putbacks from Kimmel and Chesley.
“I think we came out with a lot of energy,” Pitzer said. “We had faith in each other and belief that this was our game trying to pull it off.”
But that hot shooting soon went away, as the Duchesses went from shooting 8-for-16 from the field in the first half and 5-for-10 in the third quarter to 1-for-8 in the fourth quarter.
“A bounce here or there, a call here or there, maybe a shot going in here or there, maybe it’s different at the end,” Ravlin said. “But more than anything, there wasn’t anything we felt like we needed to get going. We played a great game. Hats off to Rockford Lutheran, they had a little bit more at the end.”