Try as you might, it can be difficult for a high school basketball coach to get his team to not look ahead to a big game later in the week.
That’s the trap the Oswego girls were in heading into Tuesday’s Southwest Prairie Conference game against Romeoville, with a showdown that could clinch the conference title at Oswego East looming Friday.
The Panthers jumped out to an 11-point lead in the first quarter, only to see it whittled down to two early in the third quarter. But the Panthers showed poise and overcame that challenge and rolled to a 54-25 win.
Coupled with Oswego East’s heartbreaking one-point loss to Minooka, the Panthers (17-7, 11-0) would clinch at least a share of the title with a win Friday.
“It’s hard for a high school player to understand that,” Oswego coach Chad Pohlmann said of his team briefly looking ahead to Friday. “We preach it all week; that you just have to keep taking the step in front of you.
“Hopefully we’ll be ready for Friday. We’re going to go out there and play our game no matter what.”
Early on, it certainly didn’t look like Oswego took the Spartans lightly. The Panthers cruised to a 15-4 lead at the end of the first quarter. But a three-point second quarter and a 4-0 run to start the third by Romeoville suddenly cut the lead to 18-16.
“I definitely think it has something to do with Friday,” Oswego point guard Amri Wilder said. “We definitely got too lax. We underestimated them and their capabilities. I just think we realized how we need to play. We weren’t playing our best. I think we’re maturing as well, so we just went out there and did what we needed to do.”
It required a team effort to snap out of it as all five starters scored in the 22-3 spurt that ended the third quarter and blew the game wide open. Siarra O’Neill hit two three-pointers and Wilder scored five of her game-high 13 points in that run.
“The third quarter, we came out better,” Pohlmann said. “It was one of those games where we knew we were going to have to grind it out. Give credit to them, they were scrapping. But a 30-point win is still a 30-point win. Now we move on to the next game, and it’s a big game.”