MENDOTA — The Rochelle varsity girls basketball team faced a familiar foe on Monday, when the Lady Hubs opened the IHSA Class 3A Regional at Mendota with their quarterfinal contest against nonconference squad Genoa-Kingston.
Rochelle entered the regional bracket having lost its last three games, but the ninth-seeded Lady Hubs had minimal trouble with the tenth-seeded Cogs, who fell 68-55 against Rochelle during the regular season. Behind strong defensive pressure in the first quarter and even scoring from multiple players, the Lady Hubs defeated Genoa-Kingston once again, winning 54-40 and advancing to the semifinal round against No. 1 Sterling on Wednesday.
“We always want to come in with that killer mentality,” head coach Tony Rowan said. “We want to establish our press and force turnovers throughout the game. Our third quarters have been lacking right now, but we’ll hopefully be able to turn that around on Wednesday.”
Rochelle’s full-court press forced multiple traveling and out-of-bounds turnovers by Genoa-Kingston in the first quarter, the Lady Hubs also frequently entered passing lanes, intercepting balls and scoring easy layups on the other end. Rochelle led 14-7 after one quarter behind four points from senior Cheyene Watson, who had a season-best nine points in the game.
The Cogs focused on containing Lady Hub senior Abby Lundquist throughout the evening, and while the Rochelle guard struggled to knock down shots in the first half, teammates such as sophomore Sofia Lenkaitis (who scored five of her seven points in the second quarter) helped carry the scoring load. Rochelle gained its largest lead of the night in the second quarter, entering halftime up 33-20.
“A lot of the girls were in the right spot at the right time,” Rowan said. “We were moving the ball well, and when we can catch teams in a zone that aren’t moving as fast as they want to move, being in the right spot is often times right around the basket or standing in the corner for a 3-pointer. If we can knock those shots down, they’re back-breakers for the other team.”
Genoa-Kingston began the third quarter on an 8-1 run to come within six points of the Lady Hubs before Rochelle called timeout to regroup. With her team struggling to move the basketball, freshman guard Zoey Tabor stepped up for the Lady Hubs, scoring nine of her 14 points in the second half, including seven points in the fourth quarter, to help Rochelle stay ahead. The Lady Hubs held a 44-29 lead after three quarters.
“This was one of Zoey’s best all-around games,” Rowan said. “She was pushing the basketball when we needed her to, and she was getting steals at the front of our press. She hasn’t been at the top of our press much, but she did a great job up there. She knocked down some key free throws for us to extend our lead.”
Lundquist scored six of her team-high 16 points in the fourth quarter to help Rochelle ice its quarterfinal victory. The Lady Hubs will advance and play Sterling, who has topped the Lady Hubs twice in conference play this year, for a spot in the regional title game later this week.