Posted Online: Jan. 15, 2013, 11:01 pm

Rockets stun Sherrard to tighten up WCC North girls' basketball race

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By Terry Duckett,

EDGINGTON -- The Rockridge girls' basketball team has come a long way since losing by 28 points to rival Sherrard just over a month ago.

In Tuesday night's rematch, the Rockets showed just how far they've come. Trailing by as many as 15 points in the first half, Rockridge responded with one of the best halves it has played this season, overtaking the Tigers down the stretch and holding on for a thrilling 59-56 home-court victory over the West Central North leaders.

"This is an exciting win for this group, especially going into regional seeding (tonight),'' said Rockridge coach Shawn Strachan. "The girls have been working hard and concentrating on shooting better, and they did a much better job of finishing.''

After a buzzer-beater by Molly Wright cleaved a seven-point Sherrard lead to 49-44 entering the fourth quarter, the Rockets (10-12, 3-4 WCC North) kept the pressure on the Tigers. Rockridge tied the game at 51 on a pair of Destiny Grawe free throws with 3;43 remaining, then went up 53-52 on Beth Meier's bucket with 3:05 to play -- Rockridge's first lead since 8-5 early in the first quarter.

From there, the hosts used their defense to take them to the finish. Rockridge forced the Tigers into 10 fourth-period turnovers and a 6-of-19 shooting performance in the second half. Additionally, Sherrard hit just six of 14 free-throw attempts in the second half.

"We came in here really hoping we could finish this time,'' said Meier, who scored a game-high 13 points while playing with a mask after breaking her nose in last Saturday's 47-31 loss at Illini West. "The last time we played them, that was the major setback for us. We focused on what we needed to do in order to win.''

The masked Meier was far from the lone ranger in terms of contributing to the Rocket victory. Wright netted 11 points and snared six rebounds, Miranda Potter added 10 points and Grawe contributed five rebounds and five steals.

"Our defense did a great job of rotating and being where they needed to be,'' said Strachan. "Michaela Stoneking did a great job at the front of our 1-2-1-1 press, and Devin Hasson and Destiny Grawe did a good job of rotating and creating a lot of pressure on them.''

After suffering their first loss in seven WCC North outings, the 19-3 Tigers now have a little more pressure put on them as they welcome Illini West to Harry Hunt Gymnasium Thursday night. Tuesday's loss shrinks Sherrard's lead over the Carthage cagers to a half-game, with third-place Orion now two games back.

"Every conference game is tough, and we didn't come ready to play,'' said Sherrard coach Doug Swanson. "We talked about how this is a big turning point in our year. We've got to make sure we come ready to go everyday in practice, and we've got to be mentally and physically ready to go Thursday. We have to match Illini West's energy.''

At the outset of Tuesday's game, Sherrard had the energy as it ended the first quarter on a 10-2 sprint to go up 15-10, with senior forward Annie Winston (14 points, seven rebounds) scoring nine points in the opening stretch. Classmate Carly Adams then scored eight of her 13 points in the second period to help spark an 11-0 run that put the Tigers up 29-14.

However, the Rockets weathered that storm, closing the gap to 37-28 by halftime on a buzzer-beater by reserve Maddie Lape. They eventually tied the game at 42-42 in the third period, but Sherrard reeled off the next seven points before Wright's late bucket gave Rockridge its footing back.

"We got off to a good start, and then we relaxed,'' said Swanson, who also got 10 points and four steals from Erin Barton and seven boards each from Shelby Calderone and Riley Strandgard. "We thought we could coast, and you can't do that against a team that works as hard as Rockridge. They had a lot of energy, and we didn't handle it well.''