Girls basketball: Kaneland closes out Prairie Ridge to claim Class 3A regional championship

Knights advance to next week’s Sycamore Sectional

Kaneland's Kendra Brown pushes the ball up court against Prairie Ridge's Addie Meyer Thursday, Feb 15, 2024, during their Class 3A regional final game at Kaneland High School in Maple Park.

MAPLE PARK – Prairie Ridge did a fantastic job of shutting down Kaneland junior Kendra Brown for most of Thursday night in Maple Park.

But the Wolves didn’t box her out after Kaneland senior Lexi Schueler missed her second straight free throw late in a tight game.

Brown dove and gained possession of the rebound before quickly being fouled with the Knights clinging to a four-point lead with 26.3 seconds remaining in the Class 3A Kaneland Regional title game.

Brown sank both free throws to finish with six points for the game, and the Knights proceeded to earn a 45-37 victory.

“You never know what can happen with 26 seconds [left],” she said. “And only being up by [four], you have to go get everything you can, and if they aren’t going to box me out, I’ve got to get rebounds to try to score, especially if I’m getting face guarded.”

Kaneland (24-9) advances to Tuesday’s Sycamore Sectional semifinal against the winner of Sycamore and Belvidere. Those two teams will play each other in the Belvidere Regional final Friday night.

Schueler (14 points) had made her prior two free throws before missing two straight, the second of which Brown ran down. The Knights made 16-of-22 free throws overall while Prairie Ridge was limited to a 1-of-6 night.

“Obviously, that’s a time I need to make the free throws, and I missed them,” Schueler said. “But luckily we’ve been working a lot in practice on rebounding and a lot of stuff like that, and Kendra was able to fight and get that board, and I was able to make the next [free throws]. I know my coaches have confidence in me and told me to get the ball again – ‘You’re going to knock the next ones down’ – and it worked out.”

Kaneland coach Brian Claesson, who also won his first regional title, certainly appreciated Brown’s rebounding effort.

“That just goes to show the type of player she is,” he said. “She’s averaging close to 15 points a game. They were focusing on her. Their whole zone was on her. So that’s just a winner making a play, which we needed. It was a huge play.”

Claesson expected a down-to-the-wire battle.

“We knew. We played them last year early in the season, and Kendra hit a buzzer beater to beat them, and we played them earlier this year and it was a grind-out game,” he said “So we knew coming in that it was going to be that type of game – a physical game and so well coached. They play so hard, so we knew it was going to be like that. We never felt like our lead was comfortable, but I thought our kids did a good job when things didn’t go our way. [They] took a deep breath and [our] senior leaders stepped up and made some plays.”

Prairie Ridge (17-13) fell behind 30-20 in the opening minute of the fourth quarter after Kaneland senior Berlyn Ruh (six points, four rebounds) made a pair of free throws.

The Wolves answered with a couple of baskets inside from senior Addison Meyer (21 points, 10 rebounds) and then a pass from senior Grace Wolf to sophomore Zoe Nanos pulled them right back to 30-26 with 6:12 still to play.

“I’m just super proud of our girls. Our kids just play so hard,” Prairie Ridge coach Tim Taege said. “They play so hard and they’ve shown a tremendous amount of growth. I’m just really proud of them contributing to compete all the way through the fourth [quarter]. We got it to four [points] and went back to eight and back to three, and we just never gave up, and that says a lot about our kids’ character.”

Addison Taege (seven points, six rebounds) made the team’s first and only 3-pointer with 3:30 remaining to pull the Wolves to within 34-29. They only trailed 38-35 in the final minute, but Brown made two free throws with 49.9 seconds left and junior Sam Kerry (11 points, 8 rebounds) split a pair to make it 41-35.

Taege’s scoop near the hoop pulled the Wolves to within 41-37, but Brown and Schueler buried four straight free throws to close out the game for the Knights.

“It was definitely a game worrying about focusing on doing the little things,” Schueler said. “We knew they had a solid defense. We knew we had to take care of the ball on offense and we needed to make sure we were doing all the little things on defense like communicating and switching. No. 25 [Meyer] was a really good player and the environment was so fun, especially being able to win it on our home court, [that] helped us a lot, too.”