Seth Whitehead - For the Daily Union
SHELBYVILLE, IL. —
The Lady Hornets hit 9 of 13 from the field in the opening quarter and cruised to a 65-48 NTC victory in the latest matchup between coaching siblings Carolyn Wendte and Donetta Ohnesorge.
After suffering through some early-season growing pains, Wendte’s team enters the postseason on a roll, winners of 15 of its last 16 games.
The Lady Hornets (21-5, 6-0 NTC) begin their pursuit of a fourth-straight regional title and a possible return to state on Tuesday at the South Central Regional, where they will face the winner of today’s Ramsey/South Central game.
“The last couple games we’ve played really good,” Wendte said. “I’m pretty pleased getting ready to go into postseason. But like I told them, it’s a different story now. Now it’s do or die.”
CHBC has played like a finely-tuned engine of late, and Micah Jones (20 points, 18 rebounds, eight assists) and Ava Paruleski (16 points, six rebounds) continued to play the role of distributor and transmission, respectively, on Saturday.
But the biggest key to the Lady Hornets’ late-season surge has been improved ball handling, and Saturday was no exception, as they coughed up the ball just nine times against the Lady Maroons (16-11, 4-2).
“That’s the No. 1 key,” Wendte said. “We’ve worked hard on our ball handling. We’ve gotten a lot better. And that was one of the things that was a goal before the end of the season. We’ve learned how to handle the ball and we’ve learned how to work a little better. I’m very pleased with them there.”
Another key against the Lady Maroons was establishing an up-tempo game right from the opening tip.
Autumn Riley came up with a steal and found Jones downcourt for a layup on CHBC’s third possession of the game, and it was off to the races from there, as the Lady Hornets streaked out to a 22-13 lead after one quarter. Six of the Lady Hornets’ first 10 baskets came in transition.
“We love to run and gun,” Wendte said. “We have never been a team that likes to play just half court, it doesn’t matter which season I look back at in 21 years here. We’re getting better and better at that.”
CHBC also recorded assists on seven of its first 10 field goals, the latter one coming on an outlet pass from Jones to Kacie Hilt for a transition bucket that gave the Lady Hornets their first double digit lead early in the second quarter.
“We’re making a lot better passes,” Wendte said. “We’re hitting the cutters when they’re open. Before, our timing just was not there.”
CHBC led by at least eight points the rest of the first half and remained in control in the third quarter, as Jones pumped in eight points in the frame before taking a breather with about two minutes to go in the period.
Impressively, the Lady Hornets manage to add to a 12-point lead with their star player on the bench, as Paruleski scored five points and Riley added four, helping CHBC take a 15-point lead into the fourth.
“We look for Micah — we’d be stupid if we didn’t — but they have learned that they can hold their own without her, and we can even increase leads, because they work so well together,” Wendte said.
CHBC extended its lead to as many as 19 points in the fourth quarter, and the Lady Maroons never seriously threatened the Lady Hornets in the teams’ first meeting since a highly competitive battle at the NTC Tournament. Dieterich gave the defending Class 1A state runners-up a scare in that game before falling by nine points, but the Lady Maroons could not overcome offensive struggles on Saturday.
Ohnesorge’s team hit just 21 of 60 shots from the field (35 percent).
“Our offensive game wasn’t there, really, the whole game long,” Ohnesorge said.
Leading scorer Candace Niemerg had a particularly tough shooting day, going just 6 of 26 from the field and finishing with 15 points. Niemerg did outrebound Jones 20-18 in a matchup of veteran post players who have combined for more than 3,500 points and 2,500 career rebounds, but she had several close-range shots rim out.
“She didn’t let her rebounding game slide,” Ohnesorge said.“But it’s not typical that she’s off as much as she was (shooting the ball), but that’s alright. It’s not all on her shoulders.
“Courtney (Flach) had a good shooting night, but overall, we just weren’t there as a team, offensively.”
Flach led Dieterich with 18 points and missed just three of her 11 field goal attempts.
Jones flirted with a triple double and once again showed the ability to be a fastbreak waiting to happen on her defensive rebounds.
“Micah’s never had to handle the ball, but she’s learning,”Wendte said. “When she gets the ball, we’re going.”
Jones also managed to strike an ideal balance between her natural tendency to look for open teammates and her undeniable potential to be a dominant scorer.
“That was something I talked about with her about midseason,” Wendte said. “Last year’s team was a different team — we had a lot of people that could shoot the 3s, and she could draw a lot of attention (to open up those shooters). She could get everyone else in the game (offensively) before she got going.
“She started out like that this year, but we had a nice long chat. She’s gotta be the one that gears us, then everybody feeds off of her.”
Paruleski hit CHBC’s only two 3-pointers and continued her late-season surge after starting the year slow due to a lingering illness.
“It was a different story at the beginning of the season when she wasn’t feeling well,” Wendte said. “Now she can give me her offense and defensive game. And the No. 1 key thing is that she leads the team. She knows when we need to run and when we need to slow down a little bit. The knowledge of the game she has is just unbelievable.”
Game time for CHBC’s postseason opener is set for 6 p.m. on Tuesday. Brownstown/St. Elmo and Altamont will meet in the night's other semifinal.
CHBC blew out both teams during regular-season play and will be a heavy favorite to win the regional.
Dieterich is the top seed in the Neoga Regional and will begin its postseason on Wednesday at 6 p.m. against the winner of Monday's Oblong/Palestine game. Second-seeded St. Anthony and third-seeded Neoga will meet in the night's second semifinal.
The Lady Maroons split a pair of games with the Lady Bulldogs (18-10) during the regular season. Dieterich won a pair of one-point decisions the first two times it played Neoga, but lost to the Lady Indians by 10 points in the teams’ last meeting.
“I’ll tell ya, we’ve played Neoga three times, St. Anthony twice now, and it’s gonna be a battle (no matter who they play),” Ohnesorge said. “Neoga got us by 10 points the other night, and we know with the regional on their floor, we’re gonna have to battle hard for it. It’s basically who can show up and put the most points on the board and play the best defense.”
CHBC 65, Dieterich 48
CHBC 22 12 17 14 — 65
Dieterich 13 9 14 12 — 48
CHBC — Zacha 1 0-0 2, Morrison 3 0-2 6, Jones 8 4-8 20, Miller 1 0-0 2, Edwards 1 1-1 3, Riley 3 3-4 9, Paruleski 5 4-4 16, Herrmann 1 1-2 3, Hilt 2 0-0 4. Totals 25 13-21 65.
Dieterich — Flach 8 2-2 18, Higgs 1 0-0 2, Webb 0 0-0 0, Niemerg 6 3-4 15, Meinhart 1 0-0 2, Wright 5 1-1 11. Totals 21 6-7 48.
3-point goals — CHBC 2 (Paruleski 2), Dieterich 0. Rebounds — CHBC 35 (Jones 18, Paruleski 6), Dieterich 32 (Niemerg 20).Turnovers — CHBC 9, Dieterich 9. JV Score — CHBC 46, Dieterich 24.