PLANO – Two years ago, the Kaneland girls basketball program won a Class 3A regional title largely on the strength of its high-level defense.
The Knights awakened those not-too-distant echoes Wednesday night, frustrating host Plano in a 43-27 IHSA Class 3A regional semifinal victory.
It was Kaneland’s interior defense taking the lead as senior Kelly Wallner – giving up about four inches – forced 6-foot-3 Plano standout Clarisa Martinez into a nightmare outing.
Wallner loved the win, and the manner in which Kaneland earned a berth in Friday’s regional final against Northern Illinois Big 12 East rival Sycamore.
“Oh, definitely pride. That’s what Kaneland is based off of, is defense,” Wallner said. “We know that we had to come out with strong defense to win this game.”
The unquestioned focal point for the Reapers at both ends of the floor, Martinez fouled out with 3:21 to play in the fourth quarter with eight points, 16 rebounds and two blocked shots. Her shooting line, however, told the tale – she was 3 for 16 shooting from the floor.
“She was getting angry, and that’s when you’ve got to really push it on her and really take it to her,” said Wallner, who also contributed team highs of 13 points and nine rebounds.
Martinez has more than 1,000 points to her credit in her Plano career. While Wallner forced Martinez into most of her difficult shots, sophomore Bailey Crimmins also contributed to Martinez’s rough night while adding six points off the bench.
“We thought if we just kind of walled up on her and made her shoot with some 6-footers with hands in her face, that’s not easy to shoot and make those shots,” Kaneland coach Ernie Colombe said.
Third-seeded Kaneland (14-14) lost to second-seeded Plano during the regular season, but Colombe sensed the Knights could turn that close result around with even a decent shooting night. The Knights shooting improved, but it was their swarming defense that dictated play, as none of Martinez’s teammates were able to pick up the scoring slack.
The Knights limited cold-shooting Plano to one field goal in the third quarter, after which Kaneland led, 31-21.
The game started ominously for Kaneland as the Knights were assessed a pregame technical foul for running out onto both sides of the floor during warmups. Despite the Reapers cashing in two made free throws before the clock started, the game quickly swung in the Knights’ favor.
Martinez picked up her second foul midway through the first quarter, allowing the Knights’ offense to generate points in the paint to complement the outside shooting of Caroline Heimerdinger, who drained a trio of 3-pointers in the opening half. Kaneland led at halftime, 24-16.
“Another senior stepping up,” Colombe said of Heimerdinger. “She can hit those shots and we’re counting on her to his those shots. That’s what we keep talking about, if you want to be a big player, you’ve got to step up and make the plays when it counts, and I thought our seniors did a good job tonight.”
Another Knights senior, forward Marina Schaefer, scored all seven of her points in the second half.
Now the Knights will zero in on top-seeded Sycamore, a team Kaneland beat late in the regular season to split the regular season series.
“I’m more than ecstatic,” Wallner said. “I know that they’re hungry, but we’re also hungry. It’s going to be a great game, and hopefully we come out with the ‘W.’ “