BRAIDWOOD — Few teams in the area, and perhaps even beyond, entered Tuesday as hot as Reed-Custer and Beecher, the top two seeds in the IHSA Class 2A Reed-Custer Regional. The Comets entered their regional semifinal against Coal City as winners of their past 12 games, and the Bobcats had won their past 10 ahead of their showdown with Seneca, their last loss coming to Reed-Custer.
Only one of those schools saw their double-digit streak, and season, continue, as the Comets scored the first 10 points of their game and beat the Coalers 51-23.
The win improved the Comets to 23-9 on the season and advanced them to Thursday night’s regional championship game. The loss ended the Coalers’ season at 7-22.
Comets coach Nick Klein said he and his team knew they were going to get the physical defensive challenge the Coalers and coach Brad Schmitt are known for, but they still were able to use their own defense to score six quick points off of turnovers in their game-opening 10-0 run.
“I know Brad’s gonna have his girls physical and ready to play, and I told my girls, ‘We have to raise our level of intensity and out-physical them,’” Klein said. “I thought early on, our defense dictated everything, and we kind of set the tone for the whole night.”
Offensively, the Comets got a smorgasbord of production with nine different players recording a bucket, but it was the backcourt combination of Daniele Cherry and Jaden Christian that led the way, dropping 11 points apiece.
Klein said whether it’s Christian and Cherry, who often draw the attention of the opposing defense, or any other player on the floor, he has confidence they can put the ball in the net. That was evidenced by the Comets shooting 20 for 42 (47 percent) from the field.
“I knew they were going to draw a lot of attention. ... Those two have been doing a lot of scoring for us,” Klein said. “But, honestly, I told the girls, ‘If you’ve got an open shot, you take it.’
“I’ve got confidence in everybody on the team, more so this year than I ever have in the past.”
After their difficult start, the Coalers were able to will their way back into things, as their defense forced 16 turnovers in the first half, and they trailed by just nine at the half.
“I thought we ended [the half] how we wanted. ... We controlled the second quarter after we didn’t control the first,” Schmitt said. “We talked about taking that momentum into the third and fourth, and it just didn’t happen.”
Instead of keeping that momentum, the Comets were crisp in all phases in the third quarter, outscoring the Coalers 17-5 to take control ahead of the fourth quarter.
Cherry added to her 11 points with five rebounds and six steals, and Christian complimented her 11 points with four boards, two assists and a steal. Maddie McPherson had five points and eight boards, all in the second half.
Audrey Cooper led the Coalers with seven points, three rebounds and a steal. Hayleigh Roach, Sam Kenney, Madison Emerson and Luci Hakey had three points apiece.
Seneca 57, Beecher 39
The Comets will face Seneca in Thursday’s title game after the Irish’s press defense and size took the Bobcats out of their rhythm early and often, resulting in an 18-point Seneca victory.
The loss halted a 10-game winning streak for the Bobcats and ended their River Valley Conference title season at 25-7.
“I don’t think it was our best effort this season,” Bobcats coach Adam Keen said. “We were playing really well to this point and just came out flat early on.”
The Bobcats were able to handle Seneca’s blend of full- and half-court pressure in terms of beating the press and setting up an offense, but the Irish did fluster Beecher’s rhythm and timing, opening up a 10-2 lead to start the game.
Morgan McDermott gave the Bobcats a spark off the bench with a quick 4-0 run to make it a 10-6 game, but they never were able to consistently stay within anything closer than six to eight points during the final three quarters and change.
The shots never fell for the Bobcats, who shot 17 for 53 (32 percent) on the night, and the rebounds didn’t come either. Thanks to Mara Bruno, who had a game-high 15 rebounds, and 6-foot-1 junior Madison Bromberek, who had 16 points and nine rebounds, the Irish earned a 33-16 advantage on the boards.
“That was a big part of the gameplan, trying to make [Bromberek] earn hers,” Keen said. “I think she just out-physicaled us on the inside and on the rebounds, too.
“We lost the rebound by double. You can’t do that against a team like that.”
Still, the Bobcats were able to hang around at the half, trailing just 29-22. But Bromberek went off in the second half with 10 of her 16 points, and Arberita Jashari scored nine of her 16 points in a second half that saw the Irish outscore the Bobcats 28-17.
The loss put a screeching stop to the momentous run the Bobcats went on to end the regular season. Keen said that smack in the face is a lesson his team can take far beyond the hardwood.
“Sometimes, you can have the best plan — we can scheme it and be ready to go, and things just don’t go your way,” Keen said. “It’s just part of life in general, so you [have to] be able to pick yourself up, even in a loss.
“We had a good run this year ... just enjoy the memories.”
Abby Shepard led the Bobcats with 11 points, two rebounds, an assist and four steals. Kaylie Sippel had 10 points, a rebound, three assists and four steals for the Bobcats. McDermott tallied nine points, three boards, an assist and three steals. Margaret Landis’ four-year varsity run ended with three points, three rebounds, two assists and three steals.
The Comets and Irish will meet at Reed-Custer in regional championship action at 7 p.m.