HANNIBAL - Steady improvement is expected throughout the season.
But, a 31-point improvement?
It happened for the River Lady Pilots Monday night inside the R.L. Potts Gymnasium.
After getting blown out, 63-36, on Dec. 6 by Fort Frye, the Lady Pilots altered their defensive approach and turned the tables the talented Lady Cadets with an entertaining 46-42 victory in overtime.
"We've grown as a team," said River (11-2) head coach Rick Isaly. "I've seen these girls grow, from the very beginning of the season to tonight, so much. It's just unbelievable how well they've pulled together and played as a team. That's kind of effort it takes to beat a quality team like Fort Frye."
There was a point, early in the fourth, when it looked as if the Lady Pilots were on the brink of turning the game into a blowout.
After senior Cassidy McCullough ended the third quarter with a triple from the right corner to beat the buzzer, River led 33-21 and sophomore Hayley Bowers began the fourth with a conventional three-point play.
However, the Lady Cadets (10-2), made the run that Isaly had cautioned his team about at halftime.
"We knew there was still half a game left," Isaly said. "We knew (Fort Frye) was going to give us their best shot. We got rattled a little bit, too, but I couldn't be prouder of how the girls were able to do what they had to do."
Fort Frye, which looked out of sync much of the game against a zone that Isaly said his team "hadn't practiced," scored 12 in a row with Deidra Combs netting seven of those.
River, which didn't score another field goal in regulation, struggled at the line, meshing just 3-of-10 in the final chapter.
"We work on foul shots every day, but they continue to hurt us," Isaly said. "It's just a mental thing. If we make our foul shots, we put the game away in regulation."
Freshman Jensen Caretti, who had a coming out party of sorts, stopped the bleeding by knocking in a foul shot with 1:40 to go.
Fort Frye got within a bucket when Brooke Borich tallied with 25.9 seconds to go. Laken Ramsay, who scored 12 points in the game, got one-of-two at the line to fall.
The Lady Cadets went back to Combs, who scored 17 points in the game. She tallied on a short jumper and was fouled. She converted what proved to be the Fort's lone trip to the charity stripe.
"I thought we did a good job of working our way back into the game," said Fort Frye head coach Dan Liedtke, who coached the game with his arm in a sling due to rotator cuff surgery. "We were out of sync much of the game, did a lot of things that are extremely uncharactertisic of us. We knew coming up here this was going to be our toughest (PVC) game.
"I guess when you've had a lot of success, you need something like this to wake you up and make you realize you can't just show up," Liedtke continued.
River turned the ball over before getting a shot off to end regulation.
In the overtime, Bowers got the Lady Pilots going with the first bucket of the extra session. Combs, however, answered again. Caretti got free on the interior, putting River back on top. Again, Combs knotted the game.
After the teams traded turnovers, McCullough was fouled in the act. Despite struggling much of the evening from the line, the reigning Division III state low hurdle champion showed the poise you'd expect from a state champ. She calmly meshed both. Fort Frye, which never led after it was 9-7 in the first quarter, turned it over again, but River missed both foul shots. However, Caretti used her long arms to collar the offensive rebound. She knocked down both to seal the deal.
Caretti led the Lady Pilots with 15 points and 11 rebounds. Ramsey's aforementioned production was complemented by Bowers and McCullough, who went for nine and eight, respectively.
The River defense, which bottled up senior standouts Taylor Buchanan and Morgan Liedtke for the most part, was led by senior Emilee Weaver.
Fort Frye managed a split by winning the JV game.
FORT FRYE (42) - Adkins 0, 0-0 0; Parsons 0, 0-0 0; Borich 5, 0-0 11; Hupp 1, 0-0 2; Liedtke 3, 0-0 8; Buchanan 2, 0-0 4; Combs 8, 1-1 17; Totals: 19, 1-1 42. RIVER (46) - Lak. Ramsey 4, 3-4 12; Lan. Ramsey 0, 0-0 0; Bowers 3, 3-7 9; Weaver 1, 0-0 2; McCullough 2, 3-8 8; Caretti 6, 3-4 15; Totals: 16, 12-23 46.
Three-Point Goals: FF - Borich, Liedtke (2). R -. Ramsey, McCullough.