Round Lake, Prairie Ridge advance to title game at McHenry
The first half of Monday's Northern Illinois Holiday Classic semifinal between Prairie Ridge and Crystal Lake Central was about as stingy as a basketball game gets defensively.
The two teams combined for just 17 points during the first 16 minutes - 13 by the Wolves, and four by the Tigers.
It was a stark contrast to the final 16 minutes, which saw the Wolves (11-3) extend their lead to as many as 13 early in the fourth quarter, then pull away from a late Tigers rally for a 39-29 victory.
P-R will face Round Lake on Tuesday at 5:30 p.m., for the championship, after the Panthers used a late surge to stun McHenry in the other semifinal.
Wolves senior guard Karsen Karlblom, who led the Northwest Herald coverage area in scoring last season, finished with a game-high 18 points on 7 for 17 shooting. Eight of those points came during a 15-point fourth quarter, which saw the Tigers (10-5) trim P-R's lead to five with 1:10 left in the fourth.
Twenty-five seconds later, Karlblom iced things when she knifed through the right side of the paint, then was bumped hard while sinking a running layup. She finished the three-point play, making it 37-29 Wolves with 45.1 seconds to go.
"This win was a great opportunity to be in situations where we faced a lot of adversity," P-R coach Tim Taege said. "Situations you can't replicate in practice. That's a tough Crystal Lake Central team over there, they're relentless.
"Defense won this game for us. When you only give up four points in a half, ... that's hard to beat. Karsen couldn't get going until late in the game, so we found other ways to help us win."
One of those was senior guard Elani Nanos, who sank three 3s, plus her only two free throws, to finish with 11 points.
"We made big shots late (during our 15-point) fourth quarter," Nanos said. "We just stayed focused when it mattered most, and played as a team."
P-R also got a six-rebound, three-steal effort from Grace Koeppen, six points and eight rebounds from Abigail Kay, while Kelly Gende pitched in six rebounds and four blocked shots.
The Tigers, meanwhile, got a double-double (14 points, 10 rebounds, five steals) from Katie Hamill, who continues to excel. Paiger Keller (nine points) and Olivia Arndt (six points, five rebounds, four steals) were the only other Central players to score.
The Tigers were held to just 16.6 percent (8 for 48) shooting.
"We got the shots we wanted, for the most part," Tigers coach Derek Crabill said. "We just didn't finish our chances.
In the other semifinal, McHenry (5-7) coughed up a nine-point fourth-quarter edge, and fell to red-hot Round Lake, 38-36.
The Panthers (12-2) finished on a 14-3 run over the final four minutes, to advance to the tourney title game for the first time in school history.
"I don't have the record book next to me," Round Lake coach Molly Hennig said. "But this has to be our best start in at least a decade, probably longer."
The Panthers got a 10-point, 11-rebound double-double from 6-foot-1 senior center Amari Cole, and a game-high 16 points from Taylor Major, who also pitched in five steals.
It was the second time this season Round Lake has beaten McHenry.
"All the credit in the world to Round Lake right now," Warriors coach Rob Niemic said. "I thought for 28 minutes, we played great. Then we went back to some of our old bad habits from earlier this season, throwing the ball around a little bit, committing turnovers.
"We will learn from this loss. We're getting better and becoming more consistent."
One enormous bright spot was Warriors senior forward Alyssa Franklin, who has D-III offers from both Monmouth and Ripon Colleges.
Franklin tallied 10 points, but was a monster in the paint, with 18 rebounds, while former Northwest Herald Player of the Year and McHenry alum, Liz Alsot, sat in the stands nearby.
"I just make sure I'm hustling for every rebound I get," Franklin said. "And looking up when the ball is in the air is critical. It's half instinct, and the other half is just hard work."
Maddi Friedle (nine points) and Lynette Alsot (eight points, five rebounds) contributed for McHenry, as well.