GIRLS BASKETBALL: Herscher tops Wilmington, advances to regional quarterfinals; PBL bounces Iroquois West
HERSCHER — Herscher’s players and coaches alike think their team is peaking at the right time, and after Monday’s IHSA Class 2A Herscher regional quarterfinal, it looks as though the Tigers might be right.
The Tigers led wire-to-wire in front of their home crowd Monday with a relentless defensive effort from Mya Johanson and an efficient offensive game led by Mattie Brown to cruise away with a 49-17 win against the Wildcats in regional quarterfinal action.
The win improved the Tigers to 14-12 on the season, and the Wildcats ended their year with an 11-15 mark.
“All year, the message has been regionals — it’s nice to win all year long, but regionals is when it counts,” Tigers coach Philip Peacock said. “We came out tonight and showed it both offensively and defensively; it was amazing.”
The Tigers relied on their two start players early and often on both ends of the floor. Junior forward Mya Johanson had five blocked shots in the first quarter on her way to a final line of nine points, 10 rebounds and eight blocks.
“She’s all of our defense some nights,” Brown said of her teammates. “Her rebounding alone is outstanding; if you’re not with her in the paint, she’s trying at least.”
And on the offensive end, it was Brown whose star shined the brightest. She had a game-high 18 points and added seven boards, three assists, three steals and three blocks.
“She makes plays and does things out there where you just look and go, ‘How is that possible?’” Peacock said. “I feel sorry for the people that have to guard her.
“We see that occasionally from other people, too, so it’s good to have her on our side.”
Brown said she wasn’t feeling as energized as usual for most of the game, but Peacock changed that shortly before tipoff.
“I wasn’t very pumped up, but then coach Peacock gave us a pretty inspiring talk, so I was kind of nervous, like this could be it,” Brown said. “At the start, I was a little shaky … but towards the middle of the game, I felt I was doing alright.”
As Interstate Eight Conference opponents, the two teams were plenty familiar with each other before Monday’s contest. Wildcats coach Eric Dillon said the combination of Brown and Johanson is one of “the best duos in the conference,” and defending either of them is a challenge, let alone both.
“It’s extremely difficult the way Mattie can put the ball on the floor, shoot and also her skills in the post,” Dillon said. “Obviously, the fact Mya can extend to the 3-point line, they’re very difficult to guard.”
After a handful of early-season injuries and taking the season to adjust to Peacock’s style in his first year as head coach, the Tigers have won four of their past six games and seem to be hitting their stride when it matters most.
“We played Coal City [last week], and the girls’ talk after the game was, ‘We’re hitting everything at the right time,’ and I couldn’t agree more,” Peacock said. “Things are starting to click; we’re starting to understand roles, what to look for and where to look for it.”
The Wildcats ended their season, Dillon’s second as head coach, with more than twice as many wins as the previous two seasons combined. Dillon said he was proud of not only the progress the team made this season but also the resilience they showed Monday to keep competing when the odds were against them.
“Overall, I’m very pleased with how they worked throughout the year,” Dillon said. “They’ve all gone through a lot the past few years mentally and physically.
“It’s easy to give up and throw in the towel, but they didn’t, and that was more important than anything they could do on the floor.”
Mia Ruder added seven points and two steals off the bench for the Tigers. Megan Berns had six points, three rebounds, an assist and a steal. The Tigers combined for 13 blocked shots.
Chloe Sanford led the Wildcats with six points, five rebounds, a steal and three blocks. Megan Mann and Claire Rink had four points apiece.
The Tigers play today in Class 2A regional quarterfinal action against the state’s fifth-ranked team in Class 2A and top regional seed Watseka.
“Watseka’s good; there’s no doubt about it,” Peacock said. “Our message right now is to go 1-0 every day, no matter who’s in front of us.”
Paxton-Buckley-Loda 66, Iroquois West 31
In Monday’s nightcap, the Raiders struggled to beat the Panthers’ tenacious full-court press, resulting in 38 turnovers that led to 26 Panther points.
The Raiders ended their season at 3-21, and the Panthers advanced to today’s quarterfinal against Reed-Custer at 7:30 p.m.
Panthers point guard Mackenzie Bruns led the way with 22 points, six rebounds, four assists and 10 steals.
“I knew their outside shooters were going to shoot, and they had the Bruns girl that we had to defend, and we didn’t do a good job of it,” Raiders coach Bob Campbell said. “We knew what was coming; we just didn’t prepare for it.”
Ashley Aguilera led the Raiders with 11 points, five rebounds and a steal. Shelby Johnson had seven points, seven rebounds and an assist, and Ashton Miller had six points, four rebounds, three assists and a steal.
Campbell said his message to his team after the game was a simple one — appreciation.
“I told them I appreciated the work they put in, the time they put in; there were some late practices; there were some early practices,” Campbell said. “I appreciate it, and I enjoyed it, and I hope they did, too.”