It’s only December, but Reed-Custer might have won its biggest game of the regular season already.
After starting Interstate Eight Conference play with a pair of losses last week, the Comets were faced with a road test against conference front-runner Peotone.
But thanks to Antoinette Hill’s fifth double-double of the season and a dominant fourth quarter from Kylie Balgemann, the Comets led from start to finish and escaped Peotone with a 45-36 win Monday.
The Blue Devils fell to 4-3 and 1-1 in the conference. The Comets snapped their mini-skid and improved to 7-2 (1-2).
Comets coach Nick Klein said a few defensive adjustments were able to help the Comets as they got back on track in a major way.
“It’s a really big win for us. ... [Peotone] Coach [Steve] Strough does a really great job and has some really great players,” Klein said. “We changed our game plan up. We went a little more man-to-man defense, and the girls stepped up to the challenge.”
In a defensive struggle early on, Comets forward Kylie Balgemann was relegated to the bench with 5:01 left in the first half when she picked up her third foul. But fellow forward Antoinette Hill stepped up and reached the double-double mark before the half, finishing the first two quarters with 10 points and 11 rebounds.
She finished tied for the game-high with 14 points and led all players with 17 rebounds on the night.
“She took the game on her shoulders a bit. She started guarding [Blue Devils forward Mae] Graffeo a bit, and that’s a tough matchup for her, but she stepped up,” Klein said. “She’s our senior, our leader, and we go through her quite a bit.”
Despite shooting just 26 percent from the field (12 of 45), the Blue Devils used some physical defense of their own to stay in it, never trailing by more than four possessions.
Strough said although the shooting woes might be taking a toll on his team, he was glad to see them continue to play hard to remain in the game despite the off-night offensively.
“I think it’s eating away at some confidence,” Strough said. “We’ve just got to continue to play with confidence and maximum effort; the shots will fall.”
It wasn’t just Hill that stepped up in Balgemann’s prolonged first-half absence. Klein pointed to a pair of players who filled their roles and then some.
“Maddie McPherson, after playing three quarters of the JV game, gave us quality minutes,” Klein said. “And the key to our game was a girl who won’t show up in the stat book much, and that’s Kelsi Dillon. Her rotations were phenomenal, and she was the key for us to play man-to-man defense as well as we did.”
After scoring on just a pair of free-throws in the first three quarters, Balgemann was unleashed in the fourth. She went 5 of 6 from the field and 2 of 3 from the free-throw line to end the night tied with Hill atop the team-high in scoring.
“She just needs that confidence, that when she has the ball in her hands, she can go and get it,” Klein said. “[Hill] is a senior and has really blossomed, and Kylie is just ready to turn the corner.
“Going against Graffeo, arguably the best player in the area, she took over the game, really.”
Balgemann echoed Klein’s sentiments that she took over in the fourth but said it was a few new post moves that helped her.
“I just kind of took over; I’m working on a lot of post moves right now, trying to get stronger in there,” Balgemann said. “That’s been a disadvantage for me and something I’ve been trying to work on.”
Jaden Christian added eight points, six rebounds, five assists and two steals for the Comets. Balgemann contributed six boards and two assists, as well as her 14 points.
The Blue Devils were led by Samantha Gwiazda, who had 13 points and five steals. Courtney Burks had nine points and three rebounds, and Mae Graffeo had eight points, 10 rebounds and four blocks.
Both teams are back in action today. The Comets are home against Prairie Central, and the Blue Devils travel to Watseka.