Center Devon Encher especially was happy on Dec. 8 to have recently returned to the Riverside-Brookfield girls basketball lineup from an ankle injury.
It was Senior Night.
“It’s really difficult when you’re injured,” Encher said. “The bench is an important part of basketball, or any sport really, but to have that kind of limitation, it just kind of bogs you down. To come back and then to come back and get these minutes on Senior Night, it’s just setting me up for a really great comeback.”
With their five seniors – Bryce Pacourek, Encher, Lena Lembcke, Luna Lloyd and Ava Marrello — starting together for the first time since middle school, the Bulldogs caught fire in the second quarter and led the rest of the way for a 66-61 victory over Westmont.
“I think Senior Night gave us a lot of emotion,” said Pacourek. “We were really nervous but also really excited to see what we could finally do, all five of us together.”
Pacourek enjoyed one of her best games ever with 15 points and 10 rebounds, three assists and three steals. Also contributing were Marrello (13 points with 3 threes, 4 assists), Lloyd (9 points, 7 rebounds, 4 steals), Encher (7 points, 11 rebounds) and juniors Kelley Tyler (12 points) and Amanda Buckley (5 points).
The Bulldogs (5-5) trailed 20-16 midway through the second quarter before going on a 13-2 run behind an Encher putback, two Marrello threes and five points from Tyler.
Marrello, who missed her first three three-point attempts, made a third straight just before halftime for a 34-27 RBHS lead.
“I was super pumped up and it gave me a lot of adrenaline so I felt like I could run forever. I didn’t feel my legs,” Marrello said.
The victory also was the Bulldogs’ fourth straight and on the heels of a 61-53 overtime victory over Richards on Dec. 3 in which they rallied in the fourth quarter.
“Westmont was hitting tough shots. Our girls came together. They were poised. They were aggressive, which was good,” RBHS coach Jordan Mack said.
The Westmont victory also came without two usual starters, junior Emily Organ and sophomore Alyssa Morris.
“The bench was crazy and loud and aggressive and that’s what we needed to pull off the win tonight.” Lembcke said. “I know some people didn’t play but they were still in the game and cheering everyone on.”
Westmont closed within one point late in the third quarter, but Pacourek’s conventional three-point play created a 46-42 lead entering the fourth quarter. RBHS led by at least four throughout the final quarter.
Even the crowd provided a lift. Several friends of Encher wore specially designed T-shirts with her name. One wore a two-sided version to support Encher and Pacourek.
“Those are my friends, some of my best friends,” Encher said. “They wanted to be there to support me, but they also wanted to embarrass me just a little, and that’s OK.”