By Larry Brennan
Sauk Valley Media
Heather Strike is not afraid of the big moment.
First, Strike made two free throws with 3 seconds left in regulation to send the game to overtime. Then, she knocked down the 3-pointer in overtime that propelled Prophetstown to a 62-57 win over Oregon in a 2A Aurora Christian Sectional semifinal Tuesday night.
With her team trailing 56-54, Strike was fouled with 3 seconds left in regulation.
She calmly sank her first free throw. The second bounced high off the rim before going in.
“It didn’t really dawn on me that the game was on the line,” said Strike, who scored a team-high 17 points. “Surprisingly, I didn’t feel that much pressure. Our coach always tells us to not be afraid to take a shot. That second one kind of froze in time.”
With the Prophets down 55-54 in overtime, Strike drained a 3-pointer from the right wing to give her team a two-point lead with 2:46 to play. Prophetstown did not give up the lead.
“It takes someone on our team to spark our offense,” Strike said. “It gave us a big spark.”
“She’s a clutch player,” Prophets coach Don Robinson said of Strike. “She’s played well in big games the last 2 years. When the game’s on the line, she’s not scared to take the big shot.”
The Prophets put the game away at the free-throw line.
Leading 60-57, Prophetstown saw Oregon come up empty three times on a possession with less than a minute left. First, Sam Lambrigtsen, who poured in 29 points, missed a 3. Then, she missed a 2. And then, teammate Kelsey Pudlas missed a 2.
“Even though it seemed like it was over countless times, we showed that it never was,” said Lambrigtsen, a senior whose stellar career came to an end shortly after surpassing 2,000 points. “We’ve never played like this before. I’m pretty proud. I’ve never seen us move like that.”
Oregon never trailed in the first half. They led 16-10 early in the second quarter and was up 27-26 at the break.
The Prophets took their first lead on a Strike 3-pointer 12 seconds into the second half that made it 29-27.
Prophetstown extended to a 45-37 lead heading to the fourth quarter, thanks to another 3 from Strike and three free throws from Corrie Reiley with no time left. Reiley had 14 points.
Oregon fought back to tie the game at 52 on a bucket by Lambrigtsen with 1:21 left in the fourth. The Hawks took advantage of shaky free-throw shooting by the Prophets, who were 1-for-8 from the line in the quarter until Strike’s late makes.
Lambrigtsen then drove for a bucket to put the Hawks up 54-52 with 12 seconds left, setting the stage for Strike’s free throws.
“Our girls didn’t give up. They kept fighting,” Oregon coach Kristy Eckardt said. “That showed how much they wanted this. It was an amazing effort. For Sam to play the way she did was really special.”