HEBRON | Behind one basket, a group of Rochester football players took delight in heckling the referees and Boone Grove girls basketball players during Saturday night's Class 2A Hebron Sectional title game.
Boone junior Sarah Steinhilber missed her first free throw of the night in the second quarter, with those boys doing their best to distract her. Then she remembered advice from her dad.
"Just shoot it like in practice," she said.
Steinhilber made that second free throw early in the game. But then she came through in the clutch, hitting a pair at the opposite end of the court with 15.2 seconds remaining to give the Wolves a 38-36 victory over Rochester in a battle that was close throughout.
"It was definitely nerve wracking," Steinhilber said. "But I just block everything out and play basketball. It was crazy."
The Wolves (17-6) won the first sectional title for head coach Candy Wilson since 2008 and head to next week's Rochester Regional to face the River Forest Sectional winner.
"You can't not be nervous, but that's two nights in a row that Sarah has been to the line at the end of the game," Wilson said. "It's kind of sweet that we won sectionals on free throws."
Steinhilber was pleased to help get a sectional title for her senior teammates, each of whom played nearly the entire game.
Senior guard Claudia Cooper finished with a game-high 13 points and did the bulk of the ball-handling against a tough Rochester press. Senior forward Paige Aguilera added 11 points and seven steals, including one at the start of the third quarter that she converted at the other end to give her team a 28-27 lead.
Guard Faith Dammarell added seven key points, including a banked-in 3-pointer midway through the third quarter after the Zebras had sprinted out of the locker room to take a 26-20 lead.
"If you look at our team, especially how we started the season, these ladies have pulled together and played phenomenal," Wilson said. "They are tenacious and on the floor a good percentage of the game."
Boone jumped out to an early 9-0 lead at the start, with Cooper scoring seven early points including a 3-pointer just 30 seconds into the game.
But Rochester got a spark off the bench from freshman Alexa Holland, who finished with 10 points - all in the first half - to lead the Zebras (14-9). She hit the Zebras' first basket of the game, a 3-pointer at 3:45 of the first quarter.
In the second period, Holland hit another trey followed by a layup off a set play for Rochester's first lead at 12-11 with 6:41 remaining. Her two free throws with 1.8 seconds remaining tied the score at 18-18 going into the break.
Rochester's Breanne Paulik scored three consecutive right-handed layups at the start of the second half, and then made a free throw with 4:21 remaining in the third for a 27-23 lead.
But Boone held the Zebras scoreless until the 5:06 mark of the fourth period. Rochester took a 34-32 lead on a 3-pointer by Becky Malchow with 4:09 remaining.
But down the stretch, Boone's Nicole Malouhos hit two game-tying baskets and then blocked a final shot by Rochester's Holland before the buzzer sounded.