Girls basketball: Eastland holds off late Amboy charge

Cougars build big lead, then hang on as Clippers come roaring back

Eastland’s Trixie Carroll puts in a layup against Amboy Friday, Jan. 19, 2024 at Amboy High School.

AMBOY – On the road in a conference game, it’s key for teammates to find motivation in each other. In the end, that’s what made the difference for Eastland on Friday night in Amboy.

The Cougars used big runs in the second and third quarters to build a double-digit lead, then held of a furious rally by the Clippers for a 48-45 victory to remain undefeated in NUIC South play.

“One person stepped up, and we just kept rolling with it and cheering each other on. We really just motivated each other,” Eastland guard Lily Mullen said of the early runs. “Then at the end, we just had to keep motivating each other, and telling each other that we can do this. We just had to stay positive and keep our heads up, really.”

Eastland (14-8, 8-0 NUIC South) closed the first half on a 13-2 run, scoring the final eight points on runout layups off three steals and a long rebound to take a 25-15 halftime lead. The Cougars took advantage of three Amboy starters on the bench over the final two minutes of the half to avoid picking up their third fouls.

Then in the third quarter, after missing their first three shots and turning the ball over three times in the first six possessions, the Cougars hit their final five shots of the period and stretched the lead back out to 37-22 heading into the fourth quarter.

Eastland’s Olivia Klinefelter puts up a shot against Amboy Friday, Jan. 19, 2024 at Amboy High School.

Center Olivia Klinefelter was a big part of the surge, scoring a pair of buckets inside and assisting on two more baskets. She stuffed the stat sheet with 11 points and team highs of eight rebounds, three assists and a block.

“At the beginning of the game, they were really fronting me [in the post], so I just had to figure out how to get around it. Once we figured out where the open spots were, that was important to getting the ball movement we needed,” Klinefelter said. “And then rebounding, I think getting in position and just believing you can get the ball is key. It’s everyone crashing as a team.”

But Amboy (17-6, 3-4) finally got it going over the final eight minutes. Four different players scored in a 9-0 run to start the fourth quarter, the last points coming on an Elly Jones 3-pointer to get within 37-31 with five minutes to play.

Jones and the Clippers picked up their tenacity on defense and started attacking the basket on offense, and her putback with 2:19 to go cut the deficit to 39-35.

Amboy’s Addison Pertell gets fouled going to the hoop against Eastland’s Ella Gunderson Friday, Jan. 19, 2024 at Amboy High School.

“I think we ultimately just looked up at the scoreboard and saw we were down, and knew we didn’t want to lose to this team. I know that lit a fire in me and I wanted to play harder myself, and I think everyone just had that mentality at that point,” said Jones, who scored nine of her 11 points in the final five minutes. “All season, we really haven’t played to our full potential, and that fourth quarter we really started to be more aggressive. We had nothing to lose, so we kind of played with our hearts on our sleeves, and it showed.”

Trailing 45-36 after a pair of free throws from Eastland’s Trixie Carroll with 1:03 remaining, the Clippers made one final surge. Maeve Larson nailed a 3 and Emily Sachs scored on a putback, then after an Eastland free throw, Jones hit a free throw of her own.

Kiera Karlson tracked down the missed second foul shot and Amboy called timeout. Tyrah Vaessen inbounded the ball to Addison Pertell, who passed it back to Vaessen in the left corner for a 3 to cut the deficit to 46-45 with 7.4 seconds to play.

“We knew that one of us is always going to step up and help the team when we need it, and I just really tried to do it tonight because I knew somebody needed to knock a shot down and put a fire in everybody,” said Vaessen, who hit three 3s and matched Jones with 11 points. “We just knew that we had to play hard, play tougher D. And we had to drive and attack their defense, so that’s what we tried to do our best at. We started knocking down the shots that we needed to knock down.”

Amboy’s Tyrah Vaessen works against Eastland’s Sienna Peterson Friday, Jan. 19, 2024 at Amboy High School.

But Carroll hit two free throws with 3.7 seconds left to push the lead back to three, and an Amboy turnover with 0.1 second left sealed it.

Jones also had six rebounds and five assists, and Vaessen added four rebounds and five steals for Amboy. Sachs finished with nine points and a block, Larson added seven points and five rebounds, and Pertell had five points, three rebounds, three assists and five steals. Karlson chipped in two points and five rebounds.

Carroll led the Cougars with 15 points to go with seven rebounds and two steals, and Mullen added 13 points, three assists and three steals. Jenica Stoner had four points, three rebounds, two assists and two steals, Sienna Peterson finished with three points, two assists and four steals, and Keni Burkholder chipped in two points and two rebounds.

“Holding each other accountable was definitely big. Telling each other to keep going, motivating each other, we just knew we couldn’t give up,” said Carroll about keeping their composure down the stretch. “Definitely our talking helped, and we were prepared. In practice, we work a lot on what they’re going to do on offense, and we knew what they wanted to do and where they wanted to go with the ball.”

Eastland’s Trixie Carroll and Amboy’s Maeve Larson fights for a loose ball Friday, Jan. 19, 2024 at Amboy High School.
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