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Ottawa’s Cassidy Rice (No. 11) looks to pass around L-P’s Brittany Zawacki in Wednesday’s Class 3A Prairie Central Regional semifinal in Fairbury. The Lady Pirates advance to tonight’s 7:30 p.m. final against Prairie Central. NewsTribune photo/Amanda Whitlock
FAIRBURY — The La Salle-Peru girls basketball team owned the opening 3 ½ minutes Wednesday night against Ottawa at the Class 3A Prairie Central Regional.
Unfortunately for the fourth-seeded Lady Cavaliers, No. 1 Ottawa controlled the rest of the contest en route to a 60-31 semifinal win.
“The key to the game was we played really good defense and rebounded. We just made it tough for them to get into anything offensively,” Ottawa coach Mike Cooper said. “We were a little nervous. They had a chance to play Monday night and get the jitters out and they didn’t have anything to lose tonight. The pressure was on us a little bit tonight.”
With the victory, Ottawa (22-5) advances to tonight’s 7:30 p.m. title game against No. 2-seeded Prairie Central, which beat Pontiac 39-32 in Wednesday’s second semifinal.
The Lady Cavs turned back-to-back baskets from sophomore center Ellie Senica, a pair of free throws from senior guard Brittany Zawacki and a jumper from senior Mia Porter into a quick 8-0 lead.
Undeterred by the slow start, the Lady Pirates got to work and chopped the deficit down to 10-7 on a basket from senior center Mady Tonyton just before the end of the first quarter.
Early in the second quarter, Ottawa turned up the defensive pressure with a full-court press and the result was a change of the lead.
Lady Pirates senior forward Jaleesa Kindred snagged a steal off an L-P inbounds pass and deposited a layup to put OTHS out in front for the first time at 13-12 a minute into the second frame.
On L-P’s next possession, Ottawa junior guard Cassidy Rice snagged some more plunder for the Pirates with another steal set up by the press, and once again Kindred knocked down a layup to give OTHS a 15-12 advantage.
Once the momentum was in Ottawa’s court, the contest slipped away from the Lady Cavs, who trailed 31-20 at halftime and didn’t manage a third-quarter field goal and were outscored 29-11 in the second half.
“The full-court press definitely bothered us,” L-P coach Hollis Vickery said. “When Jena (Argubright) got her second foul it really changed the momentum of the game. We need her in the game all the time if possible. But give Ottawa some credit. They put on some good pressure. They played a really good game.”
Rice led Ottawa with 17 points, 11 of which came in the first half. Kindred added 12 points and Bailey 11, including a clutch 3-point shot at the end of the first half.
Zawacki led L-P with eight points, while Senica added six points and Brianna Argubright five.
The defeat signaled the end of the prep hoops careers for L-P seniors Brianna Arubright, Nicole Merdian, Christine Olson, Porter and Zawacki.
“This is the first time we’ve hit 11 (wins) since 2006-07, and only the second time since 2001,” Vickery said. “(The seniors) stuck with it. They led beautifully this year. We had a lot of underclassmen and seniors can do two things: they can turn against you when you have young kids in there or they can bring them into the fold. They did a great job bringing them into the fold, especially with the freshmen late in the year. … We couldn’t have had the season we had without the seniors this year. We owe everything to them — winning 11 games and hopefully spring-boarding the program.
“We have a lot, lot to look forward to. We had a very young team out there at times. Hopefully, we’ll use this as a building block to get to where we want to be, and can be.”
Chris Yucus can be reached at 220-6995 or at firstname.lastname@example.org Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsChris.
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