EUREKA – The Eureka women's basketball team earned its first victory of the 2021 season on Thursday evening, knocking off Illinois College, 83-70.
It was Eureka's first win over Illinois College since Jan. 15, 1998 – and the first win of first-year coach Jaylynn Stewart's tenure at the helm of the program.
"This is the team's win," Stewart said after the game. "I'm so proud of their ability to continuously take punches and respond. There's no other team I'd rather get my first win with."
The seats were empty, but the Red Devils brought enough energy and noise to fill Christine Bonati Bollwinkle Arena and Convocation Center on their own.
Eureka's Abby Stotler (Wyoming, Ill./Stark County) had a standout night with a team-high 23 points on 8-of-16 shooting from the field while hitting a trio of 3-pointers and going 4-for-4 from the line. The junior transfer from MacMurray also recorded six rebounds, two assists and two steals.
Alaina Vance (Camp Point, Ill./Central), Kennedy Jackson (Peoria, Ill./Limestone) and Shakaya Rogers (Hanover, Mich./Concord) all finished in double figures, tallying 14, 14 and 12 points, respectively.
Jackson came off the bench and notched her first double-double as a Red Devil, pulling down a game-high 11 boards to go with 14 points on 6-of-13 shooting from the field.
Vance went 5-of-8 from the field and hit a pair of 3s, while Rogers shot 5-for-10 from the field with five boards, two assists and a 3-pointer.
The Red Devils shot 47.8 percent from the field and drained 9 of 19 3-point tries, but shooting wasn't the only thing that pushed them past the Lady Blues.
The team also played disciplined zone defense in the second half and finished the night with 13 steals and 24 forced turnovers. Junior Marissa Murphy (Canton, Ill./Canton) led the way on that front, using her length and quick hands to cause problems for Illinois College's backcourt. She finished with a team-high five steals, all coming in the second half.
Sophomore Whitney Bozarth (Normal, Ill./Normal West) and junior Olivia Falls (Bloomington, Ill/Bloomington) added eight and six points, respectively, while Abby Hahn (Kinmundy, Ill./South Central) provided energy off the bench.
For the Red Devils, it was the kind of night when everyone who saw playing time found a way to contribute.
The home team came out of the gate red-hot, shooting 55.6 percent from the floor in the first quarter. Stotler, Vance and Rogers all hit from distance as EC amassed a 17-point lead. The Red Devils led 25-8 after 10 minutes of play.
The dynamic flipped in the second quarter, though. While EC's shooting cooled down, the Lady Blues' caught fire. Thanks to 19 points from its bench and 50 percent shooting from the field, Illinois College erased the deficit entirely, tying the game at 33-all before halftime.
After falling a couple points behind early in the half, Eureka hit its stride in the third quarter. Chief among the highlights, Stotler hit three big buckets, knocked down a 3 and put away a pair of free-throws to finish with 11 points in the quarter. Murphy made three of the team's six steals in the quarter, Jackson added six points and five rebounds, and the team's lead nearly swelled to 20 points.
It reached 22 early in the fourth, then Illinois College began chipping away. Despite shooting 60 percent from the floor, making 4 of 9 from distance and outscoring EC 27-22 in the frame, the Lady Blues couldn't close the gap.
The Red Devils kept their foot on the gas until the end, going 9-for-18 from the field and 3-for-5 from long range in the final frame.
Illinois College's Maya Smith racked up a team-high 16 points in a losing effort for the Lady Blues, while Lakeida Nichols and Lilly Pepper added 13 and 11, respectively.
Now that these squads are well acquainted, they have less than two days to study the tape and get ready to do it all again. Illinois College (3-3) hosts Eureka (1-1) on Saturday at 1 p.m.
Check out highlights and more photos from the Red Devils' first victory of the 2021 spring season on Friday.