Round Lake falls short in Holiday Classic title game
Prairie Ridge wasn't about to let Round Lake steal its fun at the Northern Illinois Holiday Classic.
The Wolves, who played lockdown defense for three quarters, found themselves in a difficult spot after the Panthers opened the fourth quarter on a 10-1 run and cut Prairie Ridge's once 19-point lead to nine.
"When you're winning, you can have fun and joke around all you want," Prairie Ridge senior forward Kelly Gende said. "It was time to lock in and get our win back. We knew that we were the better team. We just had to play defense again.
"And I love defense."
The Wolves, after giving up 10 points in the first 3:49 of the fourth, allowed only three points the rest of the way. Prairie Ridge held on to beat Round Lake, 49-38, Tuesday and win the Northern Illinois Holiday Classic title for the first time.
The 38 points scored by Round Lake (12-3) were the most that the Wolves (12-3) allowed in five tournament games. The Panthers were on an eight-game winning streak and were playing in the tournament final for the first time.
Prairie Ridge, meanwhile, is 9-1 over its last 10 games.
"It feels great," Wolves coach Tim Taege said of winning the tournament for the first time. "This is a really special group. We've just enjoyed being together and playing for each other. They've all embraced their roles and they star in them. Our bench brings great energy, and the kids who jump in a few minutes are good with that and give maximum effort every time.
"It's made it a really special ride, and I'm glad we're only halfway done. I think there's more to come."
Karsen Karlblom led Prairie Ridge with 19 points and three 3s. She scored 11 points in the first eight minutes as Prairie Ridge took a 13-12 lead into the second. Wolves senior point guard Elani Nanos picked up her third foul with less than 30 seconds remaining in the first after an offensive charge was called, but there never was a sense of panic.
In the second, the Wolves scored the first 10 points for a 23-12 lead. Kelly Gende started the run with a layup, Nanos nailed a 3, Karlblom was fouled and hit three free throws, and Kende added another score.
"Well, fortunately, she doesn't ever get No. 4 or No. 5 and she rarely gets No. 3, so we weren't overly concerned," Taege said. "Elani has been playing some really good basketball and has stepped up all year, not just today, but hitting clutch shot after clutch shot.
"Kelly [Gende] had a really good game. Just with her physicality and how aggressive she is and how hard she plays has such an impact on all 14 of us every day. Those seniors are always giving the best they can and bringing that energy and physicality."
Nanos tallied 11 points and made three 3s, Gende finished with nine points, 10 rebounds and two blocks, and Grace Koeppen had six points, seven rebounds and four steals. Abby Kay had a 3 and five rebounds.
"I love playing with this team," Koeppen said. "It's honestly the most fun I've had in a really long time. To play these girls, it's like a family. I think we can be a really good team this year, especially with this group of girls."
Round Lake was led by Taylor Major (seven rebounds) and Amari Cole with 13 points each. Lilli Burton had nine points on three 3s.
Panthers coach Molly Hennig wasn't surprised to see her team make a run at the Wolves in the fourth, which cut a 44-25 deficit to 44-35. In Monday's semifinal, the Panthers did the same thing in a come-from-behind win over McHenry.
"They just really wanted this game, but Prairie Ridge is a good team," Hennig said. "I wasn't surprised because I know we have it in us. But credit to Prairie Ridge. They kept battling us. I just hope this helps prepare us for close situations and this type of atmosphere later on. They didn't want to give up. They wanted to come back and win."