ARCOLA – Hannah Wallen had seven steals and the last one was the biggest.
Playing defense with a two-point lead, Wallen jumped in front of a pass to Arcola's Sophia Fishel at halfcourt and took it in for a layup and four-point edge with 1:34 to go.
The Riders turned it over again on their ensuing possession, and Megan Fifer helped Arthur-Lovington-Atwood-Hammond finish a 48-40 win at the free-throw line on Monday.
“She averages probably five-plus steals, so that was a huge play,” Knights coach Craig Moffett said. “It's a big play for her, coming up. A lot of the steals we get, we get pressure from all five girls and she ends up with the steal because she anticipates. So, a lot of good team defense.”
The Knights played good defense all night, forcing 17 Arcola turnovers, but the Riders were still without one basket with less than two minutes to play.
Arcola had drastically settled down after seven first-quarter turnovers put the Riders in a hole. They only committed five during the next 16 minutes and trailed by six entering the fourth quarter.
Rylee Fishel's second 3-pointer of the night – together equally her only points – brought the Riders into a 42-40 game with 2:54 remaining.
The Riders were inbounding the ball at half court, after a timeout, when Wallen swiped her seventh steal of the night. Madie Budd passed into a backcourt violation on the Riders' next possession, and Fifer sank two free throws as part of her six points in the last couple minutes.
“We made some bad decisions there at the end of the game,” Arcola coach Nancy Stiff said. “We played great defense, took good shots, rebounded well, played with all kinds of energy, it was just our mental mistakes that haunted us at the end.”
Wallen, who finished with 19 points, said everyone was asking for a steal during the timeout.
“We were talking about it like get a steal, get a steal or just stop the ball,” the sophomore said. “A lot of times it's the help defense, and you can really read their eyes.”
Wallen led the Knights during another critical stretch during the third quarter.
Arcola, leading by three at halftime, got buckets by Budd and Ryann Fishel to score the first four points of the third quarter. But the Knights answered with a 12-0 run.
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Wallen sparked it, scoring 11 of her points in the second half, although Fifer, who finished with 12 points, also added six in the period. In fact, for most of the third quarter, Fifer and Wallen were the only two who'd attempted a shot.
“At halftime, we talked a lot about who's going to bring the enthusiasm to the team,” Wallen said. “And whoever brought it up, we all tried to match that level of enthusiasm.”
Budd scored 16 points for the Riders, making six shots in a row at one point, and was the best option during Arcola's comeback in the second quarter.
The Knights led 14-0 after one period but quickly saw it fade. After back-to-back Budd buckets, the Riders led 19-16 and Moffett called a timeout.
She also helped started the comeback in the fourth quarter, but the Knights made it hard for Arcola to keep going back to her in the post.
“If she's open, yeah – her and Morgan (Hobgood), yeah – but they played a lot of different defense,” Stiff said. “I thought we responded to them well.
“It just boiled down to the last two minutes. When you're playing a good team, you can't have mental mistakes like we made at the end and expect to win.”
“I think we took our intensity up to another level and our physicality as well. We brought those two more consistently.” – Moffett on the second half