AMBOY – For three quarters, Fulton pushed Amboy to the limit in the title game of the Class 1A Amboy girls basketball regional on Friday.
With just a few seconds remaining in the third, the Steamers were up by one point, one of many leads they had over the course of the first three quarters, but Olivia Dinges found Brianna Blaine in the lane for a jumper to put the Clippers in front, and Amboy dominated the fourth quarter to pull away for a 41-30 win.
“We worked as a team and we didn’t try to just do it individually,” Dinges said. “I saw that they were shifting over and [Blaine] was open on the weak side. I know that she can hit those short shots very well.”
Up 23-22 heading into the final quarter, the Clippers then extended the lead in their first four possessions of the fourth. Mallory Powers fed Dinges for a 3-pointer, Abi Payne came up with a steal and fed Powers for a layup, then the Clippers got another 3-pointer from Dinges off an assist from Powers.
Dinges scored eight points, all in the second half, with her second 3-pointer putting Amboy in front 31-22.
“The two 3s from Dinges were big,” Amboy coach Mike McCracken said. “They were kind of a confidence-builder for us at the time.”
Fulton tried to chip away at the lead with 3-pointers. Macy Puckett and Kylee Sweenie both hit from long range in the fourth quarter, both off assists by Liz Fish, but the Steamers were 2-for-9 shooting from behind the arc in the fourth and could not make up the difference. Puckett’s 3 was followed by Kylie Collachia hitting one of two free throws on Fulton’s next possession, cutting Amboy’s lead to 31-26, but the Clippers responded with a pair of baskets on cuts, with Dinges hitting first Kyleigh Donna and then Payne.
“Once we got a little bit ahead, by two or three, it looked like we had a different look on our faces,” McCracken said. “I thought we panicked a little because their triangle-and-two was really good, and we just weren’t patient and we were living and dying by the 3 for a while.”
Fulton’s defense was able to keep Amboy in check for three quarters. Up until Blaine’s shot to end the third, the Clippers were shooting 10-for-40 from the field. Payne was the only Amboy player in double figures, and she only broke through that barrier on a pair of free throws with 1.4 seconds to play.
“They were giving us pressure, and it just caused all of us to speed up the game,” Dinges said. “We need to be able to slow it down for us to be able to work as a team.”
Powers, often scoring in double figures herself, was also limited by Fulton’s defense, finishing the game with eight points. Her three baskets came off a first-quarter putback and a pair of layups in the second half after steals. Combined, Payne and Powers shot 6-for-18 from the field.
“We were challenging their shots on the perimeter,” Fulton coach Mike Menchaca said. “I thought our guards did a really good job of getting help on Powers and Payne. We talked about making their shots tough – if they were going to get shots up, making them work for them.”
But the two Clipper mainstays found other ways to help their team. Each had two steals. Powers had six rebounds and three assists.
Fulton (16-14) was able to limit Amboy’s effectiveness by limiting the Clippers’ transition chances. The Steamers turned the ball over 15 times in the game, seven of those on Amboy steals.
“We practiced the other day catching on two feet and holding the rock,” Menchaca said. “We would rather take a 10-second call then give them a hand and a turnover. That was one of our big keys in practice. We had one of our assistant coaches push the ball up the floor, stop transition. We wanted to really slow down the halfcourt enough that they couldn’t get us trapped.”
Fulton did slow things down for most of the game. The Steamers took nearly a minute off the clock with their first possession of the game, and had just 11 offensive possessions in the first quarter and 23 for the first half.
That approach was working early. Fulton jumped out to a 4-0 lead on baskets by Emily Schipper and Collachia before Amboy tied the score. A Collachia free throw and a 3-pointer from Kearston Norman put Fulton up 8-4 after one.
Amboy (30-1) then answered with a 7-0 run, getting baskets from Jones in the paint and a 3-pointer from Payne before Donna added a jumper off an assist from Dinges.
That lead held up until the final seconds of the half, when Schipper beat the second-quarter buzzer on a turnaround jumper in the lane to put Fulton ahead 14-13.
Fulton was up by as many as four (17-13) in the third before Amboy went on a 6-0 run, capped by a steal and layup by Powers with 2:50 left in the third to put the Clippers up 19-17. After Fish hit a 3-pointer to put Fulton in the lead again, Jones added a jumper to put Amboy back in front.
In addition to her six points in the game, Jones grabbed 12 rebounds as Amboy out-rebounded Fulton 37-26.
“She got a lot of nice rebounds early on and kept the ball alive,” McCracken said. “Otherwise we would have been down more than we were.”
Schipper led the Steamers with 10 rebounds, but was limited to seven points, shooting 3-for-9 from the field before fouling out late.
“We had to have someone on her the whole time,” Jones said. “She’s really good. She can take the ball anywhere and shoot it. I think we did a really good job face-guarding her.”
Collachia led the Steamers with eight points. Fish added six.
“Once we got past halfcourt, we talked about 10-foot spacing, keeping everybody spaced out, let us get the ball where we want it to be successful,” Menchaca said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t get it in to [Schipper] as much as we usually do, and they did a pretty good job on the perimeter.”
1A Amboy Regional final
Amboy 41, Fulton 30
Star of the game: Gabby Jones, Amboy, 6 points, 12 rebounds
Key performers: Emily Schipper, Fulton, 7 points, 10 rebounds; Abi Payne, Amboy, 11 points; Mallory Powers, Amboy, 8 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists; Kylie Collachia, Fulton, 8 points, 6 rebounds
Up next: Class 1A Pecatonica Sectional semifinal, Amboy vs. Galena, 7 p.m. Tuesday