BELVIDERE – For almost 31/2 quarters, the Woodstock girls basketball team’s defense pestered Rockford Lutheran and made the Crusaders work hard to score.
The Blue Streaks put the pressure on Lutheran throughout the Class 3A Belvidere Sectional semifinal and were clinging to a one-point lead with five minutes to play before everything began falling apart. For a defense that had held up so well for most of the game, the Crusaders’ quickness finally began taking its toll on Woodstock.
Costly turnovers, missed shots in the paint and an ill-timed intentional foul proved to be Woodstock’s demise as Rockford Lutheran recovered for a 67-57 win to end the Blue Streaks’ playoff run.
“I think our defense broke a little bit, myself included,” Woodstock senior guard Megan Pautrat said. “Yeah, it’s upsetting, but I can’t be anything but proud of myself and my teammates.”
Woodstock (9-19) led 49-48 after Cody Brand, who scored a game-high 22 points, knocked down a pair of free throws with 5:20 left in the game. However, the Crusaders answered on their next two possessions and took a 52-49 lead. The Blue Streaks had rallied from five-point deficits twice earlier in the game.
But an attempt to be aggressive proved costly. Woodstock coach Marty Hammond said the coaches told Brand, who has experienced foul trouble during the season, she didn’t have any fouls at that point with four minutes remaining and could play more aggressively. Brand tried to do that but made the mistake of going after the ball handler near halfcourt and was called for an intentional foul.
Lutheran (19-10) made the two technical foul shots and then scored again 30 seconds later to go ahead 56-49 with 3:26 remaining in the game. Crusaders coach Joni Carlson said that was the turning point in the game, and Brand agreed. The Blue Streaks couldn’t recover and were only able to pull within six points down the stretch.
“It was pretty tough because I felt like all the weight was coming down on me since I didn’t need to [foul],” Brand said. “I feel like that was the point we started going downhill. I feel guilty about that.”
Still, Brand and Pautrat (13 points) delivered big offensive performances to put the Blue Streaks in position to advance to the sectional final. The Crusaders took a 6-0 lead within the first two minutes of the game, aided by two Woodstock turnovers. But the Blue Streaks regrouped after a timeout and got back into the game, thanks in part to 3-pointers by Brecken Overly and Pautrat to trail, 10-8, in the first quarter.
The Blue Streaks’ defensive effort only improved as the first half progressed. They held the Crusaders to one point in the first four minutes of the second quarter, part of a 7-1 run that gave Woodstock its first lead of the game, 17-15. Woodstock maintained its lead until two minutes were left in the half.
The Blue Streaks grabbed the momentum heading into halftime when freshman Gabby Scolio scored on a putback as time expired to cut Lutheran’s lead to one point, 24-23.
Ultimately, the Blue Streaks couldn’t stop sophomore center Abby Woollacott (20 points) and sophomore guard Ballie McGirk (21 points).
“We battled,” Hammond said. “The kids felt disrespected because it wasn’t supposed to be close at all as a No. 5 (regional) seed. The kids took that as a challenge, and I’m very proud of them.”