When Brea Beal made her first two 3s Thursday at Wharton Field House, it was not a good sign for United Township. Beal wasn’t pleased with her play against Pekin on Tuesday, Rocky coach Thad Hoover explained.
She had to be pretty pleased Thursday night. Beal finished with 20 points and 14 rebounds, powering the Rocks to an easy 72-40 victory for their 30th win of the season and the Class 4A Moline regional championship.
“There was more of a crowd this game,” said Beal, admitting she was fired up a bit. “Plus it was like a hometown rival, so we wanted to come out more excited than last game. Each game means something because it’s one step closer to state.”
It didn’t help any either when the Panthers coughed up five first-quarter turnovers en route to 13 at halftime. And to make matters worse for any upset bid the Panthers (19-10) entertained against the Rocks (30-1), Rocky junior Chrisyln Carr warmed up in the second quarter to score seven points herself.
By the time it was halftime, Rock Island had a 34-15 lead and was in total control. Carr finished with 19 points and Justice Edell added 12 as the Rocks looked a bit like a team taking a very business-like approach.
“We knew offense sells tickets; defense wins games,” said Carr, who also proved on several occasions that great passes sell a few tickets, too. “We got to keep doing what we’re doing. Defense has got to get better. We know what we gotta do to get the win.
“We just prepare every game. We know every game is not going to be easy,” Carr added. “We just got to keep working hard.”
Hoover clearly sets a tone with the Rocks who seem to come ready to play every night, including this one, even though they had handled the Panthers easily a few weeks back in Rock Island.
“We are really lucky to have kids that are focused and ready to play,” Hoover said. “And they don’t look over any team.
“They know it’s a process in the tournament. And this was our second step and now we look forward to the next one.”
Next up is No. 8-ranked Bradley-Bourbonnais at Normal Community High School on Monday at 7 p.m.
Thursday at Wharton Field House, the Rocks got 39 points from the Beal-Carr combo.
“They’re terrific players, and they’re winners,” Hoover said. “That’s the biggest thing. They are coachable, good kids and when the lights are their brightest, that’s when they are at their best.”
Beal’s fast start was no surprise to Hoover. The sophomore star finished shooting 8 for 15 from the field after scoring just eight points on 4 for 12 shooting in the regional opener against Pekin.
“I will be honest, I expected it,” he said. “She wanted to play better than she did on Tuesday. She’s somebody if she doesn’t shoot well, she’s going to go work at it the next day on her own. I knew she would come out and shoot well.”
For the Panthers, the season ends one win short of 20 to a team that seemed to force errors by UT almost effortlessly.
“I don’t know if you want to say intimidated … nerves,” said Panther coach Carie Walker. “Something set in in that first quarter and got us a big deficit (16-7). I thought we played harder the rest of the game but we just couldn’t capitalize on anything because they seemed to have the answer.”
Senior guard Maddie Tague led the Panthers with 14 points on the strength of four 3s, while sophomore Brandi LaFountaine added 12 points.
Normal high scorer Davi Buchanan was held scoreless and Tuesday’s star, freshman Jasmine Bell, was held to four points as the Rocky defense prevailed.
“Kudos to (them) because they have a fine team,” Walker said.
But she had praise for her Panthers, too.
“Nineteen wins was far more than expected,” Walker said. “They’re one of the most coachable groups I’ve ever worked with. We are going to miss this nucleus.”