CRYSTAL LAKE – Rob Baker’s goal Tuesday night against Marian Central was to get his Prairie Ridge girls basketball team to play fast, aggressive and smart – a difficult combination for most teams, especially when the season still is young.
Fortunately for Baker, his team’s learning curve appears to be steeper than gradual. A loss to Cary-Grove on Dec. 4 that still stings, in part because Baker didn’t feel his team matched the Trojans’ intensity, sparked a change that might have come full circle Tuesday when the Wolves beat Marian, 58-29, in nonconference play thanks to a tempo and tone they set early.
“We wanted to play fast and physical, and we did both,” Baker said. “The good thing too is we have a really deep team … (and) as a whole, as an entire team, tonight was definitely one of the best group [outings] we’ve had.”
Baker used an 11-player rotation in the first half and had contributions from every one. Leading 10-5 at the end of the first quarter, the Wolves (8-3 overall) went on a 15-4 run that included four points from junior forward Maddie Drain. Drain came off the bench to lead the Wolves with a game-high 14 points and 10 rebounds.
“None of us was jogging tonight,” Drain said. “We were sprinting down, we were sprinting back. We really worked hard tonight and I think we’re finally connecting and learning how to play together.”
Junior Sarah LeBeau (eight points) hit a 3-pointer with 1 minute, 48 seconds left in the first half that put the Wolves ahead by 28-11, and she opened the third quarter with another one. The sound of the ball as it slipped through the net might as well have been the death knell for the Hurricanes, who averaged 55 points a game entering Tuesday’s contest.
Marian (8-4) went scoreless in the third quarter despite 17 field goal attempts – the first time this season the Hurricanes have been shut out for an entire quarter. Prairie Ridge senior guard Marissa Gerstbrein scored twice in transition and Drain caught a pass underneath the basket from LeBeau to help the Wolves post a 42-14 advantage at the end of the third.
“We corrected a lot of things,” LeBeau said. “We upped our intensity and our defense.”
Marian guard Shannon Wuensch (team-high 10 points) opened the fourth quarter with a short jumper and a 3-pointer, but the Hurricanes couldn’t string together a solid run.
Marian coach Jackie Budmayr is confident her team can regroup for Thursday’s game against Wauconda. A bout of flu has kept some of her players out of the gym for about a week, and the disruption certainly has affected the Hurricanes’ momentum.
“We were playing very well, so we have to get back to the basics,” Budmayr said. “There were some very basic things, some breakdowns, tonight that we have to fix.”