With little chance of slowing down the towering front line of Nazareth Academy, Central coach Nathan Rueter challenged the Roadrunners to beat the Cougars from the 3-point line Friday at Redbird Arena.
Beep, beep. The Roadrunners met that challenge and then some.
Junior Annie Stritzel connected on three 3-pointer as part of a 29-point performance as the Roadrunners sprinted to an easy 58-25 semifinal win over the Cougars at the Class 3A girls state tournament.
With 6-foot-4 Providence College recruit Alyssa Geary headlining a Roadrunners front line that included 6-2 Marissa Metz and the 5-11 Stritzel, Nazareth Academy showed its versatility by connecting on 7 of 12 from the 3-point line.
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With Geary dominating in the middle with 15 points, six assists and five blocks, the Roadrunners broke the game open with a 1 7-2 advantage in the second quarter to take a 31-10 halftime lead.
Nazareth Academy shot 61 percent (19 of 31) from the field.
"We're a good shooting team ... But today we shot the ball great,'' Nazareth Academy coach Eddie Stritzel said. "Hopefully, we've got a few left for (Saturday).
"Without question this was about as well as we've played in a long time. ''
The win moves Nazareth Academy (31-2) into the state-title game at 12:45 p.m. Saturday against Peoria Richwoods. The Lady Knights (35-3) defeated Glenbard South 38-34 in the first semifinal Friday.
Central (29-4) will take on Glenbard South in the third-place game at 11 a.m. Saturday.
Central Athletics Director Neil Hamon said the Cougars will be honored at 4 p.m. Sunday. The celebration begins at 3 p.m. with a parade through town to the high school..
But following the 33-point loss Friday with several hundred fans from Clinton County on hand, the Cougars were not in a celebrating mood.
"We knew they were big. But we didn't expect them to be able to shoot the basketball the way they did,'' Cougars guard Olivia Wesselmann said. " They just didn't miss.''
The Roadrunners jumped out to a quick 8-2 lead as Stritzel scored on a layup and added her first 3-point basket. But late baskets from Alexis Klostermann and Carson Newkirk helped Central close within 14-8 after one quarter.
Newkirk's basket would be Central's last until senior Faye Meissner hit a free throw line jumper with 1:11 left in the opening half and with the Roadrunners leading 31-10.
"We made the decision that we were going to try and make them beat us from the perimeter,'' a dejected Rueter said. "We knew that Stritzel was a good shooter but we didn't think they would be able to shoot the ball the way they did.
"Usually with the different shooting background here, teams come in and struggle a little bit. It usually takes the players a while to adjust. They had no trouble at all.'''
Stritzel, who scored 18 of her points in the first half, added three quick baskets at the start of the second half as the Roadrunners continued to add to their lead.
Meissner led the way Central with 14 points while Newkirk added four. Newkirk added a game-high eight rebounds.
"We're all disappointed," Rueter said. "We didn't play the kind of basketball that we have all season and the type that helped us get here. But even more so than the final outcome is that I'm disappointed in that we did some things which were way out of character for this team. We lost our poise a few times.
"Hopefully we can come out and give a better showing tomorrow.''