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Late rally by Cheesemakers falls short
Monroe's Lexi Hilliard pulls up for a shot over the arm of Beloit Turner's Grace Roegner during the first half of a game Tuesday in Monroe. (Times photo: Anthony Wahl)
MONROE - The varsity debut of Monroe sophomore Lexi Hilliard led to a comeback and some drama for the Monroe girls basketball team in the season opener Tuesday.

Hilliard scored 11 of her game-high 18 points in the fourth quarter to help the Cheesemakers storm back from a 14-point deficit against Beloit Memorial. Monroe junior point guard Maddie Kallgren's 3-pointer at the buzzer hit the rim and went awry as Beloit Memorial edged Monroe in a thriller 47-46.

"We put ourselves in a position to win in the end," Monroe coach Sam Mathiason said. "The kids competed. Maddie had a good look at it. It hit the rim and just bounced off."

The Cheesemakers shot just 16 percent in the first half (5 of 31) and struggled shooting most of the game before finding their rhythm in the fourth quarter.

"It was exciting," Hilliard said. "It gave us a lot of confidence. It shows that we have a lot of heart and play hard."

Hilliard sliced to the basket and scored on a layup and was fouled with about 1 minute left. She hit the free throw to convert the conventional three-point play to cut the Purple Knights' lead to 44-40. Hilliard drilled a 3-pointer, and with 6.9 seconds left she buried two free throws to cut the Purple Knights' lead to 46-45. She made 6 of 8 free throws.

Playing with the lead late in the fourth quarter, Beloit Memorial struggled to close out the Cheesemakers. The Purple Knights were plagued by 24 turnovers and shot just 33 percent at the free throw line (7-for-21). Hilliard expected contact late in the game.

"I expected that (foul) to happen," she said. "They are really aggressive. You have to play up to their level."

Mathiason was excited to see Hilliard along with several other young players step up in the first game.

"For a lot of these kids it's their first time getting extended varsity minutes," he said. "You just hope it gives (Lexi) some confidence and belief and let's her play within herself."

Mathiason switched to a pressure defense and it worked wonders in the fourth quarter as the Cheesemakers went on a 16-9 run and outscored the Purple Knights 22-12 in the period. The spurt was sparked by Monroe senior Alacia Keegan's 3-pointer and a layup by sophomore Jordan Hirsbrunner.

Will the Cheesemakers use a press defense more this season?

"Early in the season you are still trying to play to your team's strengths," Mathiason said. "It (pressure defense) was what we had to do to have a chance."

Keegan scored 12 points after battling foul trouble and playing about six minutes in the first half before she fouled out late in the game. Kallgren and Hirsbrunner each added six points.

Beloit Memorial senior Sherriah Anderson scored a team-high 17 points and junior Lacey Cousins was a load down low scoring 12 points.

"It's frustrating because she (Cousins) is a lot stronger than me," Keegan said of guarding Cousins. "It was difficult for me to know how physical I could play without cheating on defense."

After shooting just 16 percent in the first half, the Cheesemakers made 33 percent of their shots in the second half with most of them coming in the fourth quarter. The Cheesemakers finished 25 percent shooting (16 of 64).

"It was hard not hitting shots to go in," Keegan said. "We were getting open shots. We just have to keep shooting and eventually they will fall.

"I definitely feel like we are a different team this year. You have to have a different mentality. It will take some time of getting back into the groove of playing basketball again."