LANARK – From the opening tip of Friday’s 1A Eastland Regional championship game, the host Cougars were on the attack against the Polo Marcos.
The tip went to Karlie Krogman, who brought the ball quickly up court and found Meredith Janssen cutting to the hoop for a layup. The made shot allowed the Cougars to set up their full-court press defense, and any chance for the Marcos to get comfortable disappeared.
Eastland jumped out to a quick double-digit lead and never looked back in a 75-33 win. The Cougars (29-3) advance to the Pecatonica Sectional, where they will play Stockton at 7 p.m. Monday. Stockton beat Aquin 37-35 to win the Lena-Winslow Regional on Friday.
“Polo was coming off playing a great game against Newman, so we wanted to start fast,” Eastland coach Nicole Brinker said. “We did that. Really, we came out hitting most of our shots, and that let us set up our defense. That’s the key for us. The made shots turn into the press, and the press turns into more offense.”
Erin Henze followed the first score with a pair of 3-pointers sandwiched around a 3-pointer by teammate Lydia Coatney to give Eastland an 11-0 lead. For Henze, the early success was a relief.
“I haven’t been starting off games shooting very well,” Henze said. “I guess I need a 3-point competition before every game, because I felt good once the game started.
“We talked about starting fast tonight. We wanted to get the momentum and defend our home court.”
Polo coach Jeff Grobe called the first of three first-quarter timeouts after Eastland went up 11-0.
“I was just doing whatever I could to stop the momentum,” Grobe said. “I thought I might run out of timeouts in the first quarter.
“That’s the kind of program we want to become. Year in and year out, they are in this position and have expectations of deep runs. I think anything we learned from playing them here tonight will be a positive going forward.”
The timeout helped briefly, as Becca Wagner hit a 3-pointer to get the Marcos (14-16) on the board, but that just spurred a 14-0 run by Eastland.
Henze hit 3 of her 4 3-point attempts in the first quarter and scored 14 of her game-high 27 points in the period. By the time the dust settled at the end of the first 8 minutes, Eastland led 30-5 and the Cougars were able to start rotating players in from deep off their bench.
“That’s one of the positives,” Brinker said. “You never know if a ninth or tenth girl who gets time in a game like this might be needed in some other game to contribute. You never know with injuries or foul trouble who might be called upon to step up, and all the girls on the roster have put in the time and effort to get playing time.”
The Cougars outscored the Marcos 21-5 in the second quarter and went into half leading 51-10.
Polo had its best quarter to open the second half, as it outscored Eastland 17-15 in the third. Marah Blake scored five of her team-high nine points in the period, and Lindee Poper added four points in the quarter off the bench.
Polo loses one senior from the roster, Addy Grobe, who was injured for the game. Junior Alex Dusing, another key contributor, also did not play because of injury.
A cast of players will return next season as juniors and seniors.
“We been a three- or four-win team the last few seasons,” Grobe said. “To finish with 14 wins is a step forward, and a nice accomplishment. I told them tonight to just come out and try their hardest and see what happens. Hopefully, we can take the next step next season.”
1A Eastland Regional final
Eastland 75, Polo 33
Star of the game: Erin Henze, Eastland, 21 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists
Key performers: Lydia Coatney, Eastland, 16 points, 3 rebounds, 3 steals; Karlie Krogman, Eastland, 10 points, 4 rebounds, 3 steals; Marah Blake, Polo, 9 points, 3 rebounds.
Up next: 1A Pecatonica Sectional, Eastland vs. Stockton, 7 p.m. Monday