NORMAL — The first quarter pretty much summed up the action Tuesday night in the Class 4A Normal West Girls Basketball Sectional semifinal game between the Minooka Indians and Richwood Knights.
In the first eight minutes of action, the teams combined for six points and seven turnovers. A bucket wasn't made until 2:48 left in the first quarter, when Knights guard Olivia Elger hit a running floater in the lane, and the Indians' lone point came on a free throw from sophomore Kelly Carnagio.
Needless to say, it was a defensive slugfest from the beginning. From there, however, Richwood was able to limit its mistakes while the Indians committed 23 turnovers, eventually leading to Minooka's 39-22 season ending defeat.
"No, it's impossible to win games like that," Minooka head coach Ray Liberatore said afterwards. "But you have to give Richwood a lot of credit for what they do defensively. It's something we hadn't seen all year, and they were very active and anticipated well all night."
The tone was set early on, as it was only a 5-1 Knights lead after the first quarter. The struggle continued offensively for both teams in the second quarter as well, as Richwood only outscored Minooka 11-7 in the second frame to take a 16-8 lead into the break.
"It was just one of those 'grind them out' games," Knights head coach Heather Cassady said. "We came out kind of flat and a little dead. We missed a couple easy shots early, but give Minooka credit for them changing it up a lot defensively."
After committing 11 turnovers in the first half, it seemed that the Indians came out determined to make it a game in the second half. Four quick points from junior Erin Heide made it a 16-12 game, but from there, it was all Richwood, as a 9-0 ended any hope Minooka had in coming back in the contest.
Trailing 13 going into the final frame, the chances seemed slim the Indians could make a charge. Early on in the frame, though, Minooka made it a single-digit deficit before the Knights pulled away with authority, ultimately taking home the 17-point victory.
For the Indians, the loss caps off an up-and-down season which saw them go 11-17 in the regular season, only to win three games in four days to secure their third consecutive regional championship.
"Nobody had really expected much out of us going into regionals, and that regional tournament showed what team we really could be," senior Karli Carter said. Carter had four points in the losing effort Tuesday.
"I told the girls if they were going to remember a game, remember the game against Normal West and how we beat a number one team of a regional in overtime," Liberatore added. "I think what exemplifies this senior class is Larissa McClemen, who's still diving after balls with only one minute left in the game, and that's what she's all about and the type of leader she became."
The road doesn't get much easier for Richwood, as it now has to take on an Edwardsville team that is highly regarded as one of the best in the state of Illinois. In the three games the Tigers have played this postseason, they have outscored their opponents 208-64.
"I've seen a lot of them on film, and I expect them to come out playing really hard against us," Cassady said. "They're physical, have a couple great shooters. So our hands will be full for sure Thursday."