FORRESTON — Rochelle’s full-court defense created all sorts of issues for Eastland on Thursday, when the Lady Hub varsity basketball team tipped off the Forreston Thanksgiving Tournament against the defending IHSA 1A State Championship-winning Lady Cougars.
Looking for a bounce-back win after suffering a tough season-opening loss against Rockford Guilford on Tuesday, Rochelle build up an early lead over Eastland, with sophomore Alivia Henkel scoring a team-high 23 points as the Lady Hubs held off the Lady Cougars 56-53. Senior Zoey Tabor added 10 points and junior Torrin Nantz totaled nine points for Rochelle (1-1).
“We’re ecstatic about this win,” Tabor said. “We worked together and we played our defense. We started strong and we continued to play hard throughout the whole game. I’m really proud of our team. This was our first game running a full-court press and we hadn’t done that before, but we executed it well and we want to be a top-of-the-line team defensively.”
Eastland’s guards struggled to handle Rochelle’s full-court pressure in the first half, committing several turnovers that allowed the Lady Hubs to score transition layups and convert easy shots under the rim. Rochelle led 13-8 after the first quarter before six Lady Hubs players scored points in the second quarter, with Henkel sinking three shots to lead the offense.
“We played a great game tonight and it feels really good,” Henkel said. “We had a really good practice yesterday and we worked a lot on our defense. Losing on our home court hit us hard and we wanted to come back strong. We worked on executing our plays better and we did as much as we could to improve our shots. I think this win boosts our confidence a lot.”
The Lady Cougars adjusted to Rochelle’s defense in the third quarter, using quick cross-court passes to get the ball underneath the basket to forwards Quinc Haverland and Addison Burkholder, who teamed up for 32 points to lead the Eastland offense. The Lady Cougars cut the Rochelle lead to seven points, 43-36, after three quarters before clawing their way to within one point of tying the game with roughly four minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
But it was Henkel who stepped up with high-effort plays for the Lady Hubs, grabbing multiple offensive rebounds and converting key free throws down the stretch to preserve the Rochelle lead. Despite Eastland earning the double bonus and Rochelle losing three senior starters (Josie Lundquist, Zoey Tabor and Lucy Bunger) to foul-outs, the Lady Hub defense forced enough turnovers and jump balls to ultimately swing the game in favor of the purple and white.
“Our main focus offensively was to run our plays and do our jobs,” Tabor said. “We didn’t want to focus on what the other team was doing. I thought we played well but there’s always room for improvement. Our mentality coming in was that we needed to forget about Tuesday’s game, come in with a different mindset and have confidence in ourselves and the team.”
The Rochelle Lady Hub JV basketball team also won its opening game at the Forreston Thanksgiving Tournament, defeating Eastland 33-19. Freshman Kendyl Darby led Rochelle with 10 points, while junior Bailey Jackson and freshman Abby Metzger each had nine points.
"Coming out with a strong defense in each quarter kept us in command," head coach Katie Roush said. "Every girl on the court gave 110-percent effort not only on defense but under the basketball on offense. I'm looking forward to the rest of the Forreston tournament."