ROCKFORD – The Alden-Hebron girls basketball team didn’t know much about its Class 1A Rockford Christian Life Regional quarterfinal opponent South Beloit, but the Giants got some outside help.
They learned the Sobos like to run a 2-3 zone when Giants guard Brooklyn Hilton relayed the information from her father after he went to a Sobos game last week to scout the team in his free time.
“He tried his best,” Hilton said of her dad. “He told us they like to sit in a 2-3 zone, and we practiced all week on beating it, and we just tried our best.”
Throughout the regular season, the Giants struggled against teams that ran a 2-3 defense but, this time, they had a headstart in preparing for it.
The fourth-seeded Giants did a good job of dealing with what had plagued them all season during the first half, but a tough second half resulted in a 70-58 loss Tuesday night, ending the Giants’ season. Fifth-seeded South Beloit will move on to face top-seeded Dakota in Wednesday’s regional semifinal game.
Although the Giants knew what was waiting for them once they took the floor against South Beloit, it was just a matter of putting all of that extra practice to work once the game began. It seemed to pay off early as HIlton scored 12 of her team-high 18 points in the first half, as A-H (11-10) was able to hit enough jumpers to hang with the Sobos’ top scorers.
Hilton and Jacqueline Walters aggressively attacked the zone with success, and A-H went into halftime down 32-28 but ran into trouble in the third quarter.
“We just didn’t do the little things like boxing out or taking care of the ball,” Giants coach Jen Nichols-Hogle said. “We went a couple of hours in practice attacking the 2-3 and the girls felt they understood it.
“We did all those things until halftime and that third quarter we came out different and it changed the game for us.”
The Giants had no answer for South Beloit guards Shian Galbreath or Emily Kirichkow in the second half. Galbreath scored 13 of her 22 points in the third quarter on smooth drives to the basket and forced two Giants turnovers with her aggressive defense at the point, something the Giants had no answer for.
“We tried our best,” Hilton said, “but we weren’t ready for the pressure up top.”
Kirichkow finished with a game-high 36 points, including an 8 of 9 effort from the free-throw line in the final minutes of the game to put a Giants comeback out of reach. It seemed that whenever the Giants would make a dent in the deficit that was as high as 16 early in the fourth quarter, the Sobos would pad the score.
South Beloit had only six players dressed for the game.
“It’s no fun losing,” said Walters, who finished with 16 points. “Sometimes we tried a press, but they would just beat us down the court. We did what we could, but it was tough.