Girls basketball: Third-quarter surge lifts Rock Falls past Newman

Rockets ride strong defense to win over Comets

Rock Falls’ Elizabeth Lombardo brings the ball up court against Newman Thursday, Nov. 16, 2023.

ROCK FALLS – The Rock Falls Rockets trailed the Newman Comets after the opening quarter of their Geneseo Thanksgiving Tournament game Thursday at Tabor Gym, but the rest of the game was a different story.

After taking a one-point lead into halftime, the Rockets seized all momentum with a third-quarter surge, then coasted to a 31-21 win.

Newman was in control of the game early, scoring the first points on a pair of free throws by senior forward Jess Johns 1:30 into the game. Sophomore guard Lucy Oetting put the Comets up 4-2 with a short-range jumper with just over two minutes left in the first quarter, and Newman dictated the pace for about eight more minutes.

Johns made back-to-back layups, both assisted by Oetting, for an 8-4 Comets lead with 4:40 remaining in the second quarter.

“We started working with our offense, and it kept going, and then it started to slip away when they started to get closer and closer on guarding us,” Oetting said.

Newman junior guard Helen Papoccia answered a Rock Falls 3 by senior point guard Denali Stonitsch with a layup to push the lead to 10-7 with 3:41 remaining, but the Rockets scored four straight points to end the half.

Rock Falls’ Nicolette Udell puts up a shot against Newman Thursday, Nov. 16, 2023.

Rock Falls senior power forward Taylor Reyna hit the second of two free throws to initiate the 4-0 run with almost three minutes to play. Sophomore post Ari Reyna knotted the game at 10-all with a layup, then senior forward Claire Bickett made the second of two free throws to put Rock Falls up 11-10 with 1:41 remaining. That was the score at halftime.

The Rockets seized control of the game with a 13-4 third-quarter run.

“I think we just said we need to settle down. They were speeding us up a little bit, and with only one practice, we were a little out of control,” Bickett said. “We don’t quite have any offense or plays down yet, so it’s just learning quarter by quarter. We’re just really improving, so I think playing more is really what helped us.”

Junior point guard Elizabeth Lombardo got the ball rolling 37 seconds into the second half with a high-arcing mid-range jumper off a feed from Taylor Reyna. Reyna followed with a pair of free throws less than a minute later for a 15-10 lead, then senior post Nicolette Udell sparked a 6-0 run.

Udell picked up a loose ball and laid it in for a 17-11 lead, then junior shooting guard Cierra Canas made 2 of 3 free throw attempts, and Udell dropped in another layup off an inbounds pass from Canas to stretch the lead to 21-11 with 4:42 left.

A pair of Johns free throws cut the Newman deficit to 24-14 just before the end of the third quarter.

“Since we don’t got much offense, we tried to turn our defense into some offense,” Bickett said. “We played up tight on defense. Made them turn over the ball, get us some easy layups, and that’s just what we did.”

Rock Falls widened its lead to 30-16 midway through the fourth quarter after Ari Reyna put back her own missed layup and Bickett dropped in another layup off a baseline drive.

A left-corner 3 by Oetting drew the Comets within 30-19 with 1:19 remaining, and a pair of Johns free throws made it 30-21 with less than a minute left. But it was too little, too late.

Bickett finished with nine points, 15 rebounds, six blocks and two steals; Taylor Reyna totaled three points, 10 rebounds, two assists and two blocks; Udell contributed six points and four rebounds; Ari Reyna tallied five points and five rebounds; and Stonitsch chipped in four points and four rebounds for the Rockets.

Johns led the Comets with 12 points, nine rebounds and four steals; Oetting totaled seven points, six rebounds, four steals and two assists; and Papoccia added two points and four rebounds.

“Our defense is pretty good. We’ve got to get a little better on offense,” Oetting said. “We’ve got to make our shots more, but overall, I think we did all right. And we’ve got to keep working.”

Newman’s Lucy Oetting looks to pass against Rock Falls Thursday, Nov. 16, 2023.
Dan Wussow

Dan Wussow

Dan is a sports reporter for Sauk Valley News and Friday Night Drive. Previously, he wrote for The Post-Crescent in his hometown of Appleton, WI.