CARY – As he spoke with his players before their tipoff against Huntley last Saturday, Cary-Grove girls basketball coach Rod Saffert sensed there was something different.
By the time the game was over, Saffert knew. He never had seen the Trojans as focused as they’d been en route to Saturday’s victory, which moved C-G into a tie for first place in the Fox Valley Conference Valley Division. Retaining that tunnel vision could prove the difference between staying there to contend for a division title and slumping three days later.
Tuesday came, and that determination followed. What could have been a letdown against Prairie Ridge proved to be encouraging, and after the Trojans’ 46-28 victory against the Wolves, Saffert realized his players understood the importance of the big-game attitude.
“For whatever reason, they put everything out of their minds for that (Huntley) game,” Saffert said. “I told them that I know it’s tough, but they have to try to do that for every game now that we have a shot and are back in it.”
Clawing back into position to fight for a division title was uncomfortable, senior guard Joslyn Nicholson said. Saffert didn’t necessarily have to say much to his players to impress on them the importance of remaining vigilant for the remainder of the season. Nothing felt better than Saturday’s win, so the Nicholson said they’ll do anything to replicate it.
“We decided that the way we played against Huntley was going to carry over into every other game because it really was that important to us,” she said. “The way we played that game is what will help us succeed.”
Knocking out a first half like Tuesday’s can’t hurt, either. The Trojans (13-6 overall, 6-1 FVC Valley) picked apart Prairie Ridge’s zone for five three-pointers before halftime, including two from senior guard Kylie Smith (nine points). Taking advantage of the Wolves’ shooting woes and four straight turnovers, C-G led 10-2 at the end of the first quarter and 23-2 with 1:38 left in the first half.
Prairie Ridge senior forward Marissa Gerstbrein (game-high 14 points) broke the Wolves’ long scoring drought with a putback at the 1-minute mark in the second quarter, and seniors Robin Manarik and Kelsey Bear each scored to make it 23-8 at halftime.
While the Trojans rolled in the second half, the Wolves (13-7, 3-4) continued to struggle with shots. Prairie Ridge finished the game 11 for 46 (24 percent) from the field while C-G went 19 for 39 (49 percent).
“[The Trojans] play phenomenal, big-time defense and they know what they’re doing,” Prairie Ridge coach Rob Baker said. “We need to do a better job of moving, reacting and using our basketball skills when we play them.
"We’re too worried about running an offense. We need to cut, we need to make shots, we need to drive. They’re at the top of the conference for a reason; they’re a great team. We have to improve so hopefully by the time we get to regionals we can compete against them.”