SOMONAUK -- Going up against a Byron girls' basketball team with a distinct size and manpower advantage, the Riverdale Rams felt they played the Tigers even-up, except for one pressing matter.|
That was the 15-point run the Tigers used to roar out of the gates. Riverdale did close the gap to nine points twice, but trailed by 17 at halftime and couldn't recover as Byron ended the Rams' fine season with a 69-36 semifinal setback Monday night at the Class 2A Somonauk Sectional.
Using its 3-point shooting to great effect -- four different Tiger players hit treys as part of a run of six straight field goals that fueled their 15-0 start -- Byron (30-2) caught the Rams somewhat by surprise at the game's outset.
"We were not expecting the 3-point shot," said Riverdale coach Mick Kopriva, whose club finishes with a 25-3 record. "We saw them play (in the regional finals), and they pounded it inside, so that was a little bit unexpected. Plus, they were moving the ball well and getting open looks. But we got back into it; it was a pretty even first half other than the 15-0 start."
Treys from Mayson Whipple, Brooke Holloway, Mallorie Getzelman and Ellie Lehne helped fuel the Tigers' hot start; Lehne scored nine of her game-high 25 points in the opening period. At that point, Riverdale settled down and battled to within 17-9 on a Lauren Claus bucket, but Byron finished with another spurt to go up 26-11 after one.
Still, the Rams kept trying to claw back into contention. With senior sparkplug Elle May draining a pair of 3-balls, Riverdale closed the deficit to 26-17 and looked ready to put Byron back on its heels. Instead, the Tigers counterattacked as Lehne scored eight second-quarter points, going up by as much as 20 before settling for a 42-25 halftime lead.
"The first half, we came out on fire," said Byron coach Eric Yerly, who also got 15 points and nine rebounds from 6-foot-4 senior standout Sophie Reecher to help put his club into Thursday's 7:30 p.m. sectional finals against Peru St. Bede, a 47-41 winner over Aurora Christian in Monday's opener.
"We've got a lot of seniors who work hard, and want to win. Hitting the 3s calms everyone down, and opens up our inside game. And, we knew Riverdale only had six players in their rotation, so we wanted to turn the pressure up."
Matters only got worse for the Rams in the second half. With senior forward and leading scorer Hannah Nimrick stuck in a shooting rut -- she only mustered three points on 1-of-12 shooting, although she did contribute six rebounds and five steals -- Riverdale only hit three of 30 field-goal attempts in the second half and could never get back in contention.
"We needed everybody to play their best game, and that didn't happen," said Kopriva, who got 11 points and five boards from May, eight points from Claus and five rebounds from Sydney Mericle. "Hand it to their big girls inside; we were intimidated. I still thought we did a good job inside, especially in the first half, but we couldn't put much pressure on them."