FULTON – When a pair of teams from opposite sides of the Mississippi River meet in a mid-December non-conference matchup on a Monday night, normalcy should not be expected.
The Easton Valley High School girls basketball team completed a late comeback effort to defeat Fulton 73-67 in overtime in a quirky contest at Stan Borgman Court.
Fulton squandered a nine-point lead in the fourth quarter, as sharp shooting performances in the third period from Liz Fish and Rylee Leitzen helped the Steamers build a 62-53 advantage with 5:40 remaining in regulation.
But Sadie Zaruba, who finished with a whopping game-high 30 points, willed the River Hawks back into contention to cut the deficit to just four points with 2:30 left in the final period.
Zaruba sunk a pair of free throws with 20 seconds remaining to tie the game at 60-60 and force an overtime session after Fulton turned the ball over in the closing moments of regulation.
Easton Valley coach Joe Kilburg was pleased with his leading senior's performance in a game that was merely intended to provide his team with more live experience as the bulk of the Tri-Rivers Conference schedule looms.
"We always play to win but we really came over here to take a look at a different opponent," Kilburg said. "We weren't really thrilled with the overtime because we didn't want to play Prince of Peace on a back-to-back."
Fulton coach Mike Menchaca said his team does not typically practice a slow-paced scheme reserved for late-game leads but acknowledged the Steamers committed costly turnovers to help fuel Easton Valley's late surge.
"We told them [the players] that if they weren't going to come out and chase us with a 1:50 or two minutes left, let's just take care of the basketball," Menchaca said. "But I think our kids got a bit too uncomfortable in that setting and forced the ball."
After a sluggish first half concluded with Easton Valley holding a 28-26 lead, Fish and Leitzen caught fire.
Fish, a sophomore, recovered from a shaky start to the contest in a major way, scoring 10 of the Steamers' first 12 points in the third period, including a pair of 3-pointers.
Leitzen also added two more 3-pointers, as the duo combined for seven of the team's nine long-distance shots to (temporarily) swing the momentum back around to the home team.
"Those two have been playing really well off of each other," Menchaca said. "We have really been feeding off their energy."
With the win, Easton Valley slips above .500 at 5-4 ahead of a busy week within the league, as the River Hawks will travel to the Joe O'Donnell Athletic Center to take on the Irish Tuesday before a trip to Calamus-Wheatland Thursday.
"We are on the rise," he said, "We are coming out head-hunting everybody right now with a full head of steam to try and keep this streak going."
The Steamers were without Emily Schipper for the majority of the contest due to foul trouble, which caused the junior forward to miss most of the first quarter and the entire second.
As a result, Schipper was limited to just two points and left a glaring absence in the interior, where Zaruba and 6-foot RaeAnn Carlson (nine points) both found success against smaller and less experienced Steamers.
"It is tough to play without her but we have to play around that," Menchaca said. "We have to get Schipper to understand the foul situation and make sure we are not forcing it."
Fulton's Kearston Norman helped fill Schipper's void with a team-high 18 points. Leitzen finished with 15 points and Fish added 14.
Sarah Driscoll had 10 points for Easton Valley, all of which were on free throws. The two teams combined for a staggering 61 attempts from the charity stripe.
Fulton (7-9, 1-3) will travel to Three Rivers Athletic Conference lead Orion Thursday. Easton Valley (5-4, 4-3) goes to Prince of Peace on Tuesday.