McHENRY — Marengo coach Nick Rode's main strategy prior to Saturday's Northern Illinois Holiday Classic Tournament title game against Marian Central was simple.
He dared anyone but Hurricanes' junior center Janelle Allen — a 6-foot-1 Division I Holy Cross commit — to beat his team.
That's exactly what happened.
Allen was limited to seven points and 11 rebounds, while taking just five shots the entire game. It didn't matter. The rest of Allen's teammates stepped up in a huge way, and the result was a nail-biting 41-35 Hurricanes' victory for the tournament championship.
Allen drew nonstop double- and -triple-teams every time she touched the ball. But ironically, it was her bank-shot layup after an offensive rebound with 29 seconds left in the game, following a pair of missed free throws by a teammate, which proved to be the final dagger following a frantic fourth-quarter Marengo rally.
Instead of it being a two-possession game at 39-34, and Marengo's ball, Allen's putback gave the Hurricanes (8-6) the three-score cushion that put them over the top.
"When I grabbed the rebound and put it back up off the glass, I was praying it went in." Allen said. "When it did, I was overcome with an enormous sense of relief. Marengo was so overdue to hit a big basket by that point in the game."
That's because the Indians (12-5) shot just 2 for 22 from 3-point range, which is usually one of their biggest strengths.
The lockdown defense by Hurricanes senior guard Regan Dineen on Marengo guard Marissa Knobloch was a major factor. Knobloch had scored 108 combined points in her previous four tournament games, but uncharacteristically missed all eight of her field goal attempts in the first half.
"Regan did a spectacular job on Marissa," Marian coach Ephraim Lee said. "Marissa is as good of a scorer as there is in this area, and we knew for us to have a chance, we had to neutralize her. That was a major emphasis of ours in practice."
Marengo only led once, for one possession, in the game's opening two minutes. The Indians trailed by nine at the end of one quarter, 11 at halftime, then by 14 after three. The Indians persistently chipped away down the stretch, and even held the Hurricanes scoreless for the first 3:18 of the fourth quarter.
That's when Marian Central guard Amber Reynolds (game-high 16 points) drained a long 3-pointer to stop a 5-0 Marengo run. It was her fourth 3 of the game.
"That (Reynolds) is who won the game for them," Rode said. "Every one of her four 3's was a momentum-changer. We spent so much time focusing on Allen, we forgot to pay attention to Reynolds. That girl isn't afraid to take a clutch shot, that's for sure."
Reynolds was ecstatic after holding the championship trophy.
"My emotions are literally flowing so fast right now," Reynolds said. "It's surreal to think we beat McHenry, Woodstock North, Belvidere, Round Lake ... and then Marengo, to win it all."
The victory was the fifth straight for the surging Hurricanes, which got a six-point, four-assist contribution from Morgan Laudick. Marengo got 12 points from Jennifer Heinberg, six points and nine rebounds from Jordan Parker, and seven rebounds, five assists and three blocks by Hannah Ritter.
STAR OF THE GAME
Regan Dineen, Marian Central, sr., G
Dineen jump-started her team by scoring 8 of her 11 points in the first quarter. She also tallied seven rebounds and three steals.
20: Missed 3-point shots by Marengo. The Indians were just 2 for 22 from beyond the arc.
AND ANOTHER THING …
Neither team scored a bench point. All 41 of Marian Central's points, and all 35 of Marengo's, came from their respective starting-fives.
Marian Central 41, Marengo 35
Marengo 4 5 10 16 – 35
Marian Central 13 7 13 8 – 41
Marengo (35): Knobloch 3 6-6 13, Heinberg 4 3-5 12, Parker 2 2-5 6, Haeflinger 2 0-1 4, Ritter 0 0-0 0, Faber 0 0-0 0, Aubry 0 0-0 0. Totals: 11 11-17 35.
Marian Central (41): Reynolds 4 4-4 16, Dineen 3 4-8 11, Allen 3 0-0 7, Laudick 3 1-6 7, Bahl 0 0-3 0, Kelly 0 0-2 0, Santopadre 0 0-0 0, Thomas 0 0-0 0. Totals: 13 9-23 41.
3-point field goals: Marian Central 6 (Reynolds 4, Dineen, Allen). Marengo 2 (Knobloch, Heinberg).
Total team fouls: Marian Central 19, Marengo 17.
Fouled out: Marian Central: Dineen, Laudick. Technical fouls: None