Lexi Carlsen received a challenge from Sycamore coach Adam Wickness in the wake of graduating three key defenders from a team that reached a supersectional last season.
“We lost three elite level defenders that were perimeter defenders, so I knew that would be something we’d really have to focus [on] this year,” Wickness said following the Spartans’ 51-49 victory over Batavia to close the Batavia-hosted MLK girls basketball tournament on Monday.
“I challenged [Carlsen] and said: ‘You’re going to have to step up and take the best player. She [told me] I got you, coach.'”
Carlsen, a Northern Illinois verbal commit, drew Batavia standout junior guard Brooke Carlson on Monday and largely held her own, limiting Carlson to 24 points.
“That’s just the type of workhorse attitude that she has,” Wickness said. “She always looks for a challenge; she’s always up for a challenge and it’s just one of those things where when you have a kid who just loves to compete like that, they’re going to make a difference.”
“I think a lot of [the work to grow defensively] it came from strength and conditioning in the offseason,” Carlsen said following her own 13-point, seven-rebound performance. “I worked a lot on lifting and making sure I was ready to be able to play all 32 minutes or however long needed. I rarely ask for a sub because I think that I prepared myself in the offseason to really get ready to play the whole game and not have to worry about wanting a sub.”
Carlsen accepted the role of guarding opposing teams’ best players “whether it was going to be difficult or not.”
“I was ready to go to work,” Carlsen said.
Batavia (12-10) was able to tie the game at 38-38 with 6:20 left to cap off a 6-0 run, but Carlsen and Monroe McGhee answered back with a pair of layups to go back up four. Batavia guard Alexa Schorr responded with a 3-pointer, but again, Sycamore (12-11) had answers.
Evyn Carrier (15 points, eight rebounds) followed with a layup and Carlsen ripped off a pair of layups to make it 48-41 Spartans with 2:15 remaining in the fourth quarter. Carlson went 2 of 4 from the free-throw line for the Bulldogs, and Carlsen added a pair of free throws with 25 seconds left to again give Sycamore a seemingly comfortable lead at 50-43.
Carlson had other ideas, sinking a 3-pointer with 12.3 seconds left to inch back within four.
On the ensuing inbound pass, Carlsen’s Hail-Mary pass to Mallory Armstrong was successfully caught past midcourt and Armstrong split two free throws at the line. Kylee Gehrt’s 3-pointer with under two seconds left couldn’t prevent Batavia from dropping its third straight game.
“It was one of those things where I knew who I wanted throwing the ball inbounds because she makes the best decisions,” Wickness said.
Monroe had eight points and six rebounds, Sophia Klacik had six points and Armstrong finished with four points to round out the scoring for Sycamore.
For Batavia, Gehrt had eight points, Addie Prewitt had six points and five rebounds, while Natalie Warner had five points.
“There’s swings where we had an opportunity to tie here and don’t get it; then, it feels like a five-point swing [the other direction],” Batavia coach Kevin Jensen said. “We’ve been doing that lately, where we put ourselves in a hole and now we have the stress of needing to play perfect. If we just play solid all the way through and don’t put ourselves in the hole, we’re probably in a much better place.”
“You want to execute perfectly,” Jensen continued. “You want to make sure you limit turnovers; you want to limit them to one shot only. But, we’ve done that a couple times in a row: The fight that we have is awesome. We’ve struggled to play clean early, and now you’ve got to be perfect [later on].”