CRYSTAL LAKE – By the time the final horn sounded during Cary-Grove’s 54-48 Fox Valley Conference win over Prairie Ridge on Tuesday night, it’s a wonder anyone from either team had a drop of energy left.
“That was one of the most intense games I’ve ever been a part of from start to finish,” said Trojans junior forward Maddie Jannusch, who still was trying to catch her breath. “But we expected that coming in here to their gym. It’s always a battle against Prairie Ridge.”
What Jannusch (16 points, seven rebounds, three steals) and her teammates didn’t necessarily expect was just how difficult getting the victory would wind up being.
In the game’s first 11 minutes, the teams combined to miss 29 shots, committed 21 turnovers and had 12 fouls. Those numbers weren’t because of poor play. They were because both teams were playing such intense defense, using full-court presses, double-teaming the ball and giving each other no room to shoot.
By halftime, C-G went into the locker room shooting 20 percent (5 of 25). The Wolves were 5 of 14 (35.7 percent), yet somehow, despite taking 11 fewer shots, led at the break, 18-15.
When the third quarter began, Prairie Ridge pushed the tempo every chance it got, even heaving full-court football-style passes three times to try and catch Cary-Grove’s defenders napping. Their aggressiveness paid off, and their lead ultimately ballooned to 11 less than a minute into the fourth quarter.
What happened next was a blur.
“That’s when I think maybe ... I’m not sure, because everything happened so fast, but just maybe, we got a little bit tired,” Wolves coach Rick Lima said.
In less than two minutes, the Trojans (11-7, 5-3 FVC) cut the Wolves’ lead to two, and by the midpoint of the fourth quarter, what had been a double-digit Prairie Ridge lead suddenly was an eight-point C-G advantage – all part of a 22-3 run that began on the final possession of the third and spanned about five minutes.
The Trojans, who made only eight baskets during the first 24 minutes, sank 10 of 11 shots in the final eight minutes and were 10 of 14 from the foul line during that span for a 31-point fourth quarter. Guard Bailey Steinkamp (nine points), Abby Getka (seven points), Vanessa Morris (four points) and Elsa Larry were among those who didn’t miss a shot.
Ironically, Katie Sowa, the Trojans’ top scorer, had her team’s only fourth-quarter miss. But she matched Jannusch with a game-high 16 points, while adding seven rebounds, five assists and four steals.
“Almost every one of our points down the stretch came from pure effort and heart,” Sowa said. “There was no special formula or anything we did different. We just pressured the heck out of the ball and were relentless. We forced a ton of turnovers (nine) in that final quarter. Sooner or later, some of our shots had to start falling.”
C-G coach Rod Saffert paused for a long time before assessing what he’d just witnessed, then looked up, and smiled.
“This is gonna sound cheesy,” Saffert said. “But I told our players after the game, belief is a powerful thing. When you believe in each other and don’t get down, amazing things can happen. We knew we had the firepower to come back. Our Achillies’ heel all year has been our defense, and this was probably our best defensive effort all year.”
The Wolves got double-digit scoring from Emily Perhats (13 points), Madison Ljunggren (11) and Karly Statter (11). Nicole Dorn had seven points, six rebounds and three steals.
“I know it looks bad blowing a huge lead like we did, but tons of credit to Cary-Grove,” Lima said. “This was probably our most balanced game of the year offensively. We got big contributions from a lot of people, and the girls played their hearts out. They didn’t quit out there, not for one second.”