Playing for the first time without her dad on the bench, Rock Island girls basketball standout Carlee Hoover said it felt weird.
That weirdness washed away pretty early and Hoover led the Rocks to a huge 61-44 Western Big 6 Conference win over United Township in the Panther Den to set up a conference championship game next Thursday.
Rocky coach Thad Hoover stayed home, sick with the flu, but young Carlee had herself a night, scoring a game-high 14 points with eight of them coming in the fourth quarter as the Rocks pulled away after a 23-all halftime tie.
The win moves Rock Island to 7-0 in the WB6 with both United Township and Galesburg trailing by two games with three to play. The Rocks host Galesburg next weekend and can win their second straight Big 6 title with a win. It would also be the first time RIHS has won back-to-back Big 6 crowns after last season's share.
Thursday night, Rocky (21-2, 7-0 WB6) forced the Panthers (13-9, 5-2) into 37 turnovers and had a 10-rebound advantage although no Rock had more than five rebounds.
While the final score looks like a blowout, after the first 16 minutes it appeared the game would come down to the wire. Rock Island looked disinterested, and UT was fighting for its conference life.
As time expired in the half, Rock Island's Cairece Allen tipped in a bucket to tie it, and that turned the tide. The Rocks came out of the locker room and went on an 11-2 run and never looked back.
"Our intensity picked up," Rocky coach Henry Hall said. "We were all in new roles (without coach Hoover), and we weren't playing hard. That putback got us going."
Rocky's star, Shavonne Brewer, shot just 2-for-8 from the field and 0-for-4 from behind the arc but had a crucial game-high seven steals.
Mercedes Jackson added 13 points for the Rocks. She was even credited for a missed first-quarter free throw thanks to an error at the scorer's table.
United Township looked like a different team out of the locker room. After shooting 60-percent from the floor, the Panthers shot just 31-percent in the final two quarters. The worst part of the game for UT was 36 turnovers.
"That's really ridiculous," UT coach Justin Shiltz said of the turnovers. "We need to play with more toughness. It was frustrating and disappointing to watch us on defense at times tonight."
Katie Daggett scored 10 for the Panthers, but took just one shot, and made it, in the second half. The Rocky defense also kept Jen and Jamie VanWatermeulen in check, as they scored a combined eight points and the Panther starters had just 10 second-half points.
Rocky didn't need buckets in the fourth, going 12-for-15 from the free-throw line.
Hoover was fouled twice while shooting 3s and made all six free throws.
"I was sad dad wasn't there, but we couldn't treat it any differently," Hoover said. "They slowed us down big time, so it was up to us to pick up the pace."
Ironically, the only other time Hall filled in as head coach was for Scott Harding and the Panthers when they played Rocky. He lost that one.
"I can tell you I'm content with being the sub guy," Hall joked. "Although, I'm more tired when I do the stats on subbing than I was tonight."
Today is Thursday, Oct. 2, the 275th day of 2014. There are 90 days left in the year.
1864 -- 150 years ago: The ladies have adopted the fashion of wearing representations of insects in the flowers on their bonnets. Some look very natural. 1889 -- 125 years ago: T.F. Cary, former Rock Island alderman, has accepted a position as salesman for a Chicago wallpaper house and plans to move to that city. 1914 -- 100 years ago: Work on the new telephone building on 18th Street between 6th and 7th avenues is progressing rapidly. 1939 -- 75 years ago: Rock Island's new theater at 3rd Avenue and 19th Street will have a name significant of its location. The "Rocket" is scheduled to open Thanksgiving Day. 1964 -- 50 years ago: Two of Rock Island's newest water towers were vandalized last night, including the one at 38th Street and 31st Avenue, where police took five Moline boys into custody about 9 p.m.. 1989 -- 25 years ago: Some of us who live in the Quad-Cities take the Mississippi River for granted, or at least we used to. But the river is not taken for granted by our visitors. And most Quad-Citians are realizing the importance of the river to this area as increased emphasis is placed on tourism.