MARENGO – Marengo's 50-43 win over Marian Central in Thursday's Class 3A Woodstock Regional girls basketball title game was similar to two heavyweight fighters going toe-to-toe and slugging it out until the final bell.
No. 2-seeded Marengo dug itself a nine-point first-quarter deficit against the No. 7-seeded Hurricanes and didn't lead the entire first half. They were outrebounded, 18-6, during the first 16 minutes, including 9-1 on the offensive glass.
To the Indians, it felt like a huge uphill climb as they tried unsuccessfully to claw their way back into the game early.
"It sure did," Marengo coach Nick Rode said. "We were playing decent defensively but couldn't put the ball in the basket at the other end. It was real frustrating for a while."
The Indians (24-6) persevered, however, and took their first lead of the night with 5:33 left in the third quarter, only to see the Hurricanes retake the lead seconds later on the next possession. Marian held a 34-32 advantage headed to the fourth.
Then, the real drama began.
During the ensuing eight minutes, the teams exchanged leads seven times. But the stellar play of a pair of Marengo's seniors – Erin Haeflinger and Hannah Ritter – proved too much for Marian to overcome.
Haeflinger shot 6 of 6 from the field (team-high 13 points), but the strong defensive effort she put forth playing man-to-man defense against Marian center Janelle Allen had an equally big impact.
Allen scored a game-high 17 points, but Haeflinger held her to a pair of second-half field goals. She sported a large postgame bruise on her right wrist from their physical battles in the lane.
"It came down to stamina," Haeflinger said. "Whoever had the heart for it and whoever was able to keep running and pushing was going to win this game. Tonight, we played our best when it mattered most."
After a raucous postgame celebration, which marked the Indians' second straight regional crown, Ritter's voice was raspy from screaming so loud. She scored seven points and had six rebounds, but her 10 assists were the main cog that kept Marengo's engine churning.
"This regional title was so different than our regional title upset against Burlington Central a year ago," Ritter said. "We've had a target on our backs all year since then. And somehow, we still found a way."
Marissa Knobloch (10 points), Jennifer Heinberg (seven points), Jordan Parker (six points), Lauren Aubry (five points) and Hannah Faber (two points) rounded out the scoring for Marengo. The Indians advance to face Carmel in a Class 3A Carmel Sectional semifinal at 7:30 p.m. Monday.
Marian coach Ephraim Lee thanked his team, and its two seniors, Regan Dineen (five points, nine rebounds) and Amber Reynolds (five points), for their hard work. The Hurricanes beat Marengo earlier this season, 41-35, to win the Northern Illinois Holiday Classic, and finished with a record of 12-17.
"Our two seniors meant the world to this program," Lee said. "They set a wonderful example and left everything they had out there on the court in their final game. I told our players, adversity is going to happen in life. You get up, and you respond to it.
"All the adversity these girls endured this season, the coaching changes that happened ... I couldn't be more proud of this team. We didn't win tonight, but we'll be back here again. You can count on it. This is just the beginning for us."
STAR OF THE GAME
Marengo, sr., F
Haeflinger was 6 for 6 from the field and scored a team-best 13 points.
2: Consecutive Class 3A regional titles for Marengo.
AND ANOTHER THING …
Indians senior Hannah Ritter had 10 of her team's 11 assists Thursday.
Marengo 50, Marian Central 43
Marian Central 14 11 9 9 – 43
Marengo 8 16 8 18 – 50
Marian Central (43): Allen 7 2-4 17, Bahl 3 0-0 7, Laudick 3 1-2 7, Dineen 2 0-0 5, Reynolds 2 0-0 5, Santopadre 1 0-0 2, Thomas 0 0-0 0, Hoover 0 0-0 0. Totals: 18 3-6 43
Marengo (50): Haeflinger 6 1-3 13, Knobloch 3 2-2 10, Ritter 3 0-2 7, Heinberg 2 2-2 7, Parker 2 2-2 6, Aubry 2 0-0 5, Faber 1 0-0 2. Totals: 19 7-11 50.
3-point field goals: Marengo 5 (Knobloch 2, Ritter, Heinberg, Aubry), Marian Central 4 (Allen, Bahl, Dineen, Reynolds).
Total team fouls: Marian Central 14, Marengo 10.
Fouled out: Marian Central: Allen. Marengo: Haeflinger. None. Technical fouls: None.