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Title in the Cards
Times photo: Mark Nesbitt Brodhead junior Brianna Hicks puts up a shot after grabbing an offensive rebound in the Cardinals 57-48 win Thursday night. With the win, Brodhead clinched the Rock Valley South Conference championship outright.

BRODHEAD - Taylor Douglas walked out of the locker room with a black Rock Valley Conference championship T-shirt on as Queen's "We are the Champions" filled the air after Brodhead beat Clinton 57-48 Thursday night to clinch an outright conference title.

Douglas, a junior point guard, scored a game-high 21 points and had 11 rebounds to lead the Cardinals to the win. Junior Amanda Pickel added 13 points and made 5 of 6 free throws in the final 36 seconds.

"We talked about winning a conference championship at the beginning of the year," Douglas said as she waited for her coach and team to cut down the net. "We sent a message. It's just great to have the conference championship to ourselves."

Brodhead (18-3, 13-2 Rock Valley South) overcame a 10-point deficit and some cold shooting. The Cardinals went almost 7 minutes without a field goal. Pickel snapped the clod spell when she hit a jumper with 1 minute, 24 seconds left in the first quarter.

It was a tale of two halves. The Cardinals shot 21 percent in the first half, but they trailed only 25-20 at the break thanks in part to collecting 14 offensive rebounds in the first half. They grabbed 19 for the entire game.

The Cougars, on the other hand, were plagued by 21 turnovers.

Early in the third quarter, the Cardinals too looked out of sync with three straight turnovers of their own. That's when Douglas stepped up and sparked a 15-4 Cardinals' run.

She scored 13 of her 21 points in the second half, including eight during a third-quarter spurt.

Douglas scored on a layup to start the surge and junior Brianna Hicks scored on a putback to cut the Cougars' lead to 29-28 about midway through the third quarter. Douglas later scored on a layup and sophomore Rachel Heller, who scored eight points, drilled a 3-pointer to tie the game at 33 with 1:22 left in the period. Brodhead sophomore Jordan Halvorson scored on a layup at the end of the third quarter to give the Cardinals a 35-33 lead they wouldn't relinquish.

All in all, the Cardinals reversed their first-half struggles by shooting 50 percent (11-for-22) in the second half.

"We had some good looks (in the first half)," Brodhead coach Brad Pickett said. "We just didn't convert. Our defense kept us in the game until we could score. It's all about their defense."

The offensive struggles didn't get the team down, however, as Douglas and her teammates kept pushing forward.

"The shots didn't fall early on," Douglas said. "We kept our heads up and kept driving to the hoop. We kept our composure and didn't get down."

Pickett was excited with how his team performed in the second including Douglas kick-starting the run.

"She's a really good point guard who can get to the basket," Pickett said of Douglas said. "We just have to talk to her about attacking more. I don't think she was aggressive enough in the first half. She did a nice job in the second half."

That set the stages for a nail-biting fourth quarter. Brodhead sophomore Meg Duffield and Pickel each knocked down 3-pointers to give the Cardinals a 43-38 lead with 4:53 left. After Clinton sliced the Cardinals' lead to three points, Duffield drilled her second 3-pointer to give the Cardinals a 46-40 lead. Clinton sophomore Megan Lantz, who scored 21 points, hit a jumper with 1:31 to go to cut the Cardinals' lead to 48-44, but that was as close as it would get.

"Meg and Amanda really stepped up and hit some big shots," Pickett said. "Tonight we got some really good minutes from Jordan Halvorson too."

It was a team effort, and that led to the Cardinals reaching what they had set their sights on earlier in the year.

"Our goal from the beginning of the year was to win an outright conference championship," Pickett said. "We didn't want to share it with anyone."