Girls Basketball: Lady Clippers set sail for regional title

By Brandon LaChance, Editor
Posted 2/13/24

OTTAWA – Senior Elly Jones remembers last year’s last game as the Amboy girls basketball team was the No. 1 seed in a regional and were upset in the championship to No. 4 Polo.

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Girls Basketball: Lady Clippers set sail for regional title


OTTAWA – Senior Elly Jones remembers last year’s last game as the Amboy girls basketball team was the No. 1 seed in a regional and were upset in the championship to No. 4 Polo.

Jones and the Lady Clippers want to erase the memory in this year’s playoffs.

No. 3-seeded Amboy started on the right path with a 52-43 victory over No. 5 Putnam County in a Class 1A Marquette Regional semifinal Monday, Feb. 12 in Ottawa to advance to the championship at 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 16 against St. Bede.

“We knew this was a big game. Meave (Larson) and I are seniors, and we didn’t want this to be our last game,” Jones said. “Everyone on the team knew it. We supported each other and we had to get fired up for the game because it meant a lot. Everyone stepped up.

“Getting to the championship is huge and winning it would be huge, especially after last year’s sad loss at home. This year is our redemption year. We want the regional championship. Meave and I have been waiting for this for four years. We’re definitely excited.”

At first, it looked like an Amboy victory wasn’t going to happen.

Putnam County jumped out to a 5-0 lead as Amboy had two turnovers on its first two possessions and forced quick shots on the next three possessions.

After a few shots went through the net and the Lady Clippers found comfort maneuvering around the Lady Panthers’ aggressive defense, Amboy battled back and took an 18-17 lead into the second quarter.

“We didn’t get off to a very good start and were a little rag-tag at the beginning. I didn’t call a timeout and we got through the rough patch,” Amboy coach Mike McCracken said. “We shot free throws very well in the first half. We’re kind of up and down at the line and we never know how we’re going to shoot free throws. It was great to see them fall early.

“Anytime we get three players in double-digit scoring we’re doing pretty well.”

The Lady Clippers were 19-of-27 from the free throw line with Jones making 8-of-10 to go with a 3-pointer for 11 points on the night.

Larson was 6-of-6 from the stripe and finished with a team-high 15 points, while junior Addison Pertell was 4-of-5 from the free throw line and scored 13 points.

Amboy (24-7) outscored Putnam County 10-2 in the second quarter and 16-13 in the third quarter before PC (19-13) took the fourth quarter 11-8.

With 2:54 left in the game, McCracken took a timeout to slow down the Lady Panthers’ comeback attempt as they closed the gap to 47-43.

“When we called a timeout, I wanted them to shorten the game a little bit,” McCracken said. “We call it DSS, where we put the ball in the hands of our three guards to stall and shorten the game for us, and hopefully make them panic a little bit. Putnam County was shoving it down our throats so bad and trying to rally.

“We really played well and shot free throws better than we have to secure the win.”

With 1:05 on the clock, Jones made two free throws and followed with a defensive steal with 45 seconds to help seal the victory.

Now it’s on to Friday, St. Bede, and the opportunity to win a regional plaque.

“A lot of people stepped up for us against PC and we’re going to need the same effort against St. Bede,” Jones said. “We had substitutes off of the bench that haven’t played much step up. That is hard because it’s a big state, regionals, and I’m definitely thankful they played the way they did.”

“We knew we had to play great defense. They’re a great team with great shooters. They’re also good at driving the lane, especially Ava Hatton. We had to play our best defense. That was the talk in the locker room. It has to continue.”

Junior starter Tyrah Vaessen had six points and six rebounds, while sophomores Kiera Karlson (six rebounds and four points) and Emily McLaughlin (two rebounds, tough inside defense) had strong showings off of the bench.

Besides the chat, the locker room also holds McCracken’s white board.

“We thought the regional final could be between us and St. Bede but there are five teams in our regional with 17 wins or better,” McCracken said. “That’s wicked. We survived the first one. We put 24 on the white board because this was our 24th win. We put a one below it because we had to get the one win, Monday, to move forward.

“The board on Friday will have a 25 for our season record and a two for hopefully the second win in the playoffs.”