All eyes on them: Top-ranked Raiders match hype of return home with balanced scoring in victory

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Quincy Notre Dame's Blair Eftink looks for room to drive during the second half of Thursday's game against Rochester at The Pit. | Matt Schuckman photo

QUINCY — After seeing the volleyball team’s creative use of The Pit’s videoboards, which were installed last spring, the Quincy Notre Dame girls basketball players wanted to have their turn implementing hype videos.

Initially, Raiders coach Eric Orne hedged.

“He told us we had to earn it with the December stretch that we had and we’d evaluate after Christmas,” senior guard Blair Eftink said after the Raiders went 13-1 in the final month of 2022. “So I guess we earned it.”

Had Orne caught a glimpse of his players focusing on the videoboard more than the basket during warmups Thursday night, he might have changed his tune.

“I was a little nervous about that,” Eftink said. “I told everyone we had to come out strong or Coach Orne was going to blame it on that for sure. I knew everyone was watching the videos.”

Everyone’s eyes are on the Raiders, too, now that a home crowd gets to see them again. 

Playing at The Pit for the first time since December 6, Class 2A’s top-ranked team used balanced scoring, a barrage of 3-pointers and stellar defense to hold Rochester and Western Illinois University recruit Kaylen Reed at bay with a 51-41 victory.

This kickstarts a stretch where the Raiders (19-1) play 10 of the final 11 games of regular season at home before playing host to the regional. QND is now 6-0 at The Pit this season.

“I missed it,” sophomore guard Sage Stratton said of playing at The Pit. “It’s just like coming home. I was like, ‘Yes, we’re finally here.’”

The Raiders actually played in Quincy three times in December, but those were part of the Rumble on the River at John Wood Community College’s Student Activity Center. So this was a welcome return to familiar digs.

“It’s been a long time,” Eftink said. “A long time.”

At first, it showed. The Raiders misfired on their first four shots and went scoreless on their first six possessions. They didn’t score until Eftink drilled a 3-pointer from the top of the key off an Abbey Schreacke assist three minutes into the game.

“You got to see a lot of familiar faces we haven’t seen in over a month,” Orne said. “It was almost too long. I felt like our shooting wasn’t as good as it could have been. We shot it well in spurts from 3-point range, but we didn’t look so good at times as well. We certainly want to get in better rhythm with that.”

QND knocked down four 3-pointers in the first quarter — two each from Eftink and Stratton — and saw Eftink hit another 39 seconds into the second quarter for a 17-12 lead. However, the Rockets (16-6) rallied to tie the game at 21 with two minutes to play in the half.

Schreacke scored the final four points, including turning a steal into a layin just before the buzzer for a 25-21 lead.

In the third quarter, freshman forward Jenna Durst showed her range, burying three 3-pointers as QND carried a 40-29 advantage to the fourth quarter. At that point, the Raiders had three players in double figures, none of whom were named Schreacke.

QND’s all-time leading scorer had six points through three quarters.

“We had good balance tonight, so it wasn’t just Abbey,” said Eftink, who finished with 13 points. “We rely on her a lot, even if she’s not scoring. She’s rebounding, assisting. She’s just great. But it’s awesome to have everyone involved. You have to guard everyone. You can’t just guard one person.”

Durst finished with 13 points, while Stratton had 10. Schreacke finished with a team-high 15 points, while Reed had 13 points for the Rockets.

“What we’ve been looking for all season is some balance,” Orne said. “Sometimes you have to find different ways to win, and we did. We had good, balanced scoring.”

It’s how the Raiders need to continue to win games.

“In the postseason, teams are going to hit Abbey hard,” Stratton said. “That’s when we have to do things. Teams won’t always see it coming. That’s when we rise up and really just take it on.”

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