SHERRARD — After suffering its first conference loss in two years Tuesday night at Rockridge, the Sherrard girls' basketball team had even more to play for Thursday evening.|
With Carthage Illini West poised just a half-game behind the Tigers in the West Central North standings, Sherrard flexed its defensive muscles as it defended its home court and strengthened its perch atop the division with a 35-26 victory at Harry Hunt Gymnasium.
Forcing the Chargers (12-10, 5-2) into 25 turnovers and a frigid 6-of-35 shooting performance (17 percent), Sherrard scored 26 of its points in the second and third quarters to give it the cushion it needed to earn its 20th win of the season and snap a two-game skid.
"When we bring our best defensive game, our offense builds off of that and falls into place," said senior guard Carly Adams. "That's what happened (Thursday). Our defense set the tone."
Adams snared three steals and junior forward Riley Strandgard grabbed four to spearhead the Tiger defense, and both were equally key on the offensive front. After a 4-4 first-period draw, Illini West had worked its way to an 11-6 lead before the Tigers (20-3, 7-1) reeled off an 8-0 run, including Strandgard's bucket at the 2:57 mark that put the hosts up 12-11.
"If our offense isn't working, we can always count on our defense," said Strandgard. "Our motto the whole year has been to stay up and keep pushing. We gave it all we had; all our heart and effort showed on the floor."
Adams and Strandgard (11 points apiece) along with senior forward Annie Winston (nine points, nine rebounds) scored four points each in the second to stake the Tigers to an 18-15 halftime lead. Strandgard and Adams then combined for 10 third-period points to help Sherrard take control, building a 30-19 lead entering the fourth quarter.
"I think at practice (Wednesday), we had a lot more focus. We want to get better each day," said Adams, who also had five boards. "I think losing to Rockridge helped us. It opened our eyes, made us want to work harder and not be satisfied."
The Chargers' hopes of a fourth-quarter comeback were stymied by an 0-for-8 shooting clip down the stretch. They did hit six of nine free throws in the fourth and closed the gap to nine points but could get no closer despite a six-point, six-steal effort from Graci Bastert.