Schueler, Kaneland clamp down to knock off Rochelle in playoff opener
After shooting less than 25% in the first half and falling behind Rochelle as much as nine points, the Kaneland girls basketball team started leaning on its defense.
Berlyn Ruh gave the Knights the lead for good with an early bucket in the fourth quarter, then Lexi Schueler and Kendra Brown converted steals into layups to help Kaneland knock off Rochelle 51-45 in a Class 3A Sycamore Regional semifinal.
"Obviously, we didn't start out very well," Schueler said. "We missed a lot of layups, but we just never stopped fighting. We were talking to each other during the game like, 'Hey, this is our game. We can't give up.' "
Kaneland (14-16) never led until Ruh's bucket to start the fourth, then the Knights never trailed again. They pushed the lead to nine with 3:36 left on a steal and layup by Brown, who finished with a team-best 11 points, five steals and eight rebounds.
In the first half, Brown had a couple layups off steal attempts roll off the rim, emblematic of the shooting woes the Knights suffered early as Rochelle (8-24) built a 14-5 lead, although Kaneland erased it with nine straight.
Rochelle got the lead back to 24-16 just before halftime, but the Knights had it down to 33-32 after three.
"It was huge, that energy those girls brought," Kaneland coach Brian Claesson said. "It starts with our defense. We weren't too happy giving up 24 points in the first half. Our big emphasis at halftime was play defense. We turned up the pressure, got some easy steals and got some easy buckets."
Schueller finished with 11 points and four steals as the Knights forced 30 turnovers, helping offset a 45-27 advantage for the Hubs on the boards.
Kaneland and Rochelle split their two regular-season meetings, both games like this one decided by six points or less.
Now the Knights face Sycamore on Thursday, another team they split the regular-season series with, handing the Spartans their only conference loss.
"It's the same thing. We split with Rochelle. We split with Sycamore," Claesson said. "We know it's going to be a big task. They're the best team in our conference for a reason. A lot of talent, a well-coached team, but I know our girls will be up for it."
Schueler said the Knights need to come out more focused Thursday than they did on Tuesday if they want to knock off the Spartans for the second time this season.
"I think we need to stay focused the whole game," Schueler said. "Obviously, like in this game, missing layups is just lack of focus. We just need to focus the whole entire game. If we take the first quarter off ... we need four quarters to win."