CARY – When his Cary-Grove girls basketball team has struggled this season, coach Rod Saffert has pleaded with the Trojans to not be so robotic.
Just play, he tells them, insisting that if they do, the rest will take care of itself.
So after C-G spent the first half of Friday night's FVC Valley Division game against McHenry fighting to overcome 16 minutes of cold shooting, Saffert repeated the message, hoping things would change in the third quarter.
The Trojans listened and quickly turned a game that was tied at halftime into a 63-35 runaway victory.
The difference? A third-quarter surge when C-G outscored the Warriors 17-4 to pull ahead for good.
"We just started knocking down our shots and I think that was a big difference-maker for us," said guard Katie Barker, who scored 17 of her game-high 22 points in the second half.
The Trojans (14-10, 5-5 Valley) took advantage of the defensive pressure McHenry put on Barker. Sarah Kendeigh (11 points) and Abby Jakubicek (10 points) took advantage and balanced out the Trojans' offense, which pushed their lead to 20 points just more than two minutes into the fourth quarter.
"That was big – we've been working on (spreading out the offense) because we figure people will double-team Katie," Jakubicek said. "So, the fact that our hard work paid off was really nice."
The Warriors, who were led by Sawyer Lay's seven points, couldn't keep pace.
For McHenry (9-15, 1-7), which remained even with C-G during the first half by hitting 5-of-7 3-point attempts, the eight minutes following the half turned to a difference-maker.
"We stopped playing defense," Warriors coach Scott Morris said. "We were right there in the game, but that third quarter has just been our Achilles heel all year. We lose intensity and we don't come out come out the same way we do before halftime and it showed."
Once the Trojans started rolling offensively, they didn't stop. After being locked down defensively in the first half, Barker started hitting from the perimeter. The junior hit three 3-point field goals – including one at the third-quarter buzzer that gave C-G a commanding 42-29 lead.
Finally, Saffert witnessed the kind of basketball he knows his team was capable of playing.
"I told my girls, 'We're playing basketball now', Saffert said. "Instead of being robots, we were finding the open girls, making the right cuts, making the right reads. It's a much more fun game when you do that."