The Pekin girls basketball team found a way Tuesday night to avoid the fourth-quarter blues it has suffered this season.
The method: build such a big lead that what happened in the final eight minutes didn’t have an impact on the game.
Pekin beat East Peoria 41-26 in a Mid-Illini Conference game at Hawkins Gym, ending a six-game losing streak. The Dragons (3-8, 1-3) were in front 36-18 heading into the fourth quarter.
“I told our girls we were getting a reputation as a team that didn’t handle pressure well in the fourth quarter, so a way to change that is to squash our opponent early,” said Pekin coach Brett McGinnis.
The Dragons followed their coach’s advice. They led East Peoria (1-8, 0-4) from wire-to-wire.
“We executed well,” McGinnis said. “We’ve been focusing on X’s and O’s in practice.”
All 11 healthy Pekin players got into Tuesday’s game and eight scored, led by Taylor Goss with 15 points. Jenna Taphorn had nine points, all in the first half.
McGinnis gave his reserves plenty of playing time in the fourth quarter.
That was the plan if Pekin could sustain a 25-10 lead it had built at halftime.
“We use basically a seven-player rotation, so I was happy the other girls saw the floor,” McGinnis said.
Madelyne Aaron led East Peoria with 12 points,. She hit four triples, the only 3-pointers the Raiders made all night. Sarah LaHood contributed five points.
Turnovers hurt the Raiders. They had 15 in the first half and finished with 22.
“Fifteen turnovers in the first half? That’s about our average for a half,” said East Peoria coach Khassandrae Brown. “Turnovers have been an issue for us. We’re working to get that corrected for the second half of the season.”
Brown said her team isn’t as young as last season, but it’s inexperienced and trying to develop a good chemistry.
She’s optimistic about the Raiders’ future.
“These girls work hard every day, they’re coachable, and they do some good things in games, but we have a ways to go,” she said.
TOUGH NEWS: McGinnis said sophomore Tess Cascia is out for the season because of a knee injury that will require surgery. Cascia was hurt in Pekin’s Nov. 30 game against Dunlap.
“It’s not something you plan for, and it stinks for Tess,” McGinnis said. “She was on track to be a four-year player.”
Recovery time from the January surgery is expected to be nine months to a year, McGinnis said, which means Cascia won’t be able to play soccer this spring for Pekin. It isn’t known if she’ll able to play volleyball for the Dragons next fall.
GAME NOTES: Pekin’s biggest lead over East Peoria was 23 points (41-18). The Dragons built that lead by scoring the first five points of the fourth quarter on a 3-pointer by Braelyn Oberle and a basket by Morgan Haynes, her first varsity points in her first varsity game. East Peoria scored the final eight points of the game. ... Pekin went ahead by double digits (19-9) on a 3-pointer by Gracie Kizer with 4:26 left in the second quarter. The Dragons’ lead didn’t slip into single digits the rest of the night. ... East Peoria didn’t commit a foul in the second half until Sarah LaHood was whistled with 1:41 to go in the game. ... Neither team spent much time at the free throw line. Pekin was 3-for-4 and East Peoria was 4-for-8. ... Pekin and East Peoria shot a combined 4-for-25 from the field in the fourth quarter. The Dragons finished at 38 percent (17-for-44) and East Peoria at 25 percent (9-for-36).
Steve Stein can be reached at (248) 224-2616 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @SpartanSteve.