DUPO — The postseason has finally arrived and the Marquette Catholic Explorers have lived to fight another day.
The Explorers ousted their Prairie State Conference rival East Alton-Wood River Oilers, 63-23, Monday at the Class 2A Dupo Regional. With the win Marquette improved to 13-14, while the Oilers wrap up their season at 1-26.
“We're 13-14 right now and last year we were 7-21, so I'm very happy,” second-year Marquette head coach Meagan Hanlon said. “We were 4-1 in conference and last year we were 1-4, so it's been quite a year.”
On the other side, Emily Van Natta concluded her first season at the helm at EA-WR. It was a learning experience for the girls getting acclimated to a new system, but Van Natta thought they came around, even if it wasn't reflected in the scores.
“When I first came in I told people I was going to run man (defense) and they said, 'Bad idea, they've never run man. They can't run man,'” Van Natta said. “But they moved into it pretty well. Toward the second half of the season they were getting the help defense, understanding that. Now they're there, we need to learn how to be there correctly, but in one year that's a long way to come... At one point we had four freshmen and one sophomore on the court (tonight) and it didn't look like what you'd think having four freshmen and one sophomore out on the court.”
The Explorers used their size to dictate the pace early Monday. They raced out to a 13-0 lead, setting the tone with a pair of Caitlyn Hanlon free throws and a 3-pointer and then capped by six straight points in the paint from 6-foot-1 senior Brittany Pace. Brittany and twin sister Andria Pace, also 6-1, are tough to defend for most teams around the basket due to size mismatches.
“We've got the twins down there and when they're 6-1 it's kind of hard to defend,” coach Hanlon said. “We just tried to get some lob passes in to them and that's what started it. Brittany had six points there and that helped out a lot.”
Van Natta said it was a matter of lack of execution on the Oilers part that Pace was able to score so easily around the basket.
“Our guards have found it a lot harder to be in help defense than our posts,” Van Natta said. “When there's a situation where there's a low post and a high post and it's up to the guard on the other side to be the help in the low post they aren't always there. The posts know when to be in help defense, so the lobs, they're hard and when they're big, tall girls and they got that arm up you have to have someone there ready to spike it out of bounds. You just knock it out of bounds so they can't get that lob so they stop trying, but when we don't do that they just do it over and over and over and over.”
Caitlyn Hanlon, who led all scorers with 15 points in the game, thought the quick start was key to the Explorers' success. It got the postseason jitters out of the way and allowed them to play with confidence.
“We definitely wanted to come out fast with a lot of points in the beginning,” she said. “We didn't want to get down because usually we get down in the beginning and end up coming back, so it was a big thing for us to be on top in the first quarter.”
A basket by EA-WR's Carly Campbell and a free throw by Courtney Beneke snapped Marquette's run and dwindled the deficit to 13-3 at the close of the opening frame.
An 8-0 run by the Explorers to open the second quarter stretched it to 21-3. It was highlighted by 3-pointers from Lila Snider and Hanlon. Another 8-0 scoring spree by Marquette later in the stanza extended the lead to 31-7 with 2:19 to play in the half.
Becca Renken and Campbell scored consecutive field goals to cut it to 31-11, but a traditional 3-point play from Kelsey Blasingim in the waning seconds sent the Explorers into the locker room up 34-11.
They continued to pull away in the second half. A 7-0 spurt by Marquette to close the third quarter ballooned the advantage to 50-15 entering the final eight minutes and it never looked back.
The Explorers did a good job of getting a lot of players minutes and into the scoring mix on Monday. Altogether 10 players contributed to the offense. Caitlyn Hanlon liked seeing her younger teammates join the fun and also liked the fact that the starters were able to save their legs for a tough test on Tuesday. Marquette now draws No. 2 seed Breese Mater Dei at 6 p.m. Tuesday, a team it lost to 71-43 on Jan. 11 on the road.
“I'm glad everybody got a chance to get in,” Hanlon said. “For our last few games everybody should have a chance to get some points here at the end of the season.”
The senior point guard knows her team will have a huge task at beating the talented Knights on Tuesday.
“We're going to try our best, I know we already lost to them once this year,” she said. “Hopefully it can be a little closer game than it was earlier in the season. We need to play better defense and we were off with our shooting that night, too. Hopefully our shots go in more and then our defense definitely needs to be good.”
On the losing end, the junior Campbell led EA-WR with 13 points. Van Natta said Campbell is a definite talent for the Oilers and key to their improvement in the future.
“There are times I feel for Carly because she is a good player and you would be able to see how good she is if she just had a little more around her,” Van Natta said. “She can drive by anyone, she can shoot in anyone's face, but she has to decide to and I think this year was a big year for her realizing that. When she turns it up, we turn it up and that's a lot for one person to shoulder. I hope we can find some secondaries to help her along.”
CLASS 2A DUPO REGIONAL
MARQUETTE 63, EA-WR 23
Oilers 3 8 4 8 — 23
Explorers 13 21 16 13 — 63
Marquette (13-14) — Andria Pace 3, Caitlyn Hanlon 15, Emily Holden 6, Brittany Pace 8, Lila Snider 5, Lauren Fischer 6, Madi Connors 3, Elena Gable 7, Kelsey Blasingim 8, Taylor Aguirre 2. 2FG — 16 3FG — 5 FT — 16 PF — 6.
EA-WR (1-26) — Becca Renken 4, Carly Campbell 13, Courtney Beneke 5, Caitlyn LeMond 1. 2FG — 9 3FG — 1 FT — 2 PF — 16.