Burlington Central wins sectional title

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The team that was supposed to be a postseason threat in a year or two is one win away from state this year.

Burlington Central’s young girls basketball team displayed complete dominance in every aspect of the game and overwhelmed Sterling on Thursday from the opening tip to win 49-26 in the Class 3A Genoa-Kingston Sectional for the school’s second girls sectional crown.

“What a performance, just fantastic defense,” Central coach Mark Smith said. “We did exactly what we wanted do.”

Central (27-4) got three first-quarter three-pointers from Shelby Holt en route to an 11-point night, while guard Kayla Ross scored a team-high 14 points and made five steals in teaming up with guard Camille Delacruz to key a defense that caused 24 Sterling turnovers.

“We shut down their transition game,” Smith said. “I thought we played within ourselves. We had great patience.

“Shelby hit the threes. I thought basically we could do what we wanted to and that’s because the girls executed and were smart with the basketball.”

Central’s defense was so good that Sterling could get off only 15 shots at the hoop over the first three quarters. By then the Rockets led 45-18 and all that was left was the ceremonial cutting down of the net as the Rockets earned a supersectional game Monday night at Hoffman Estates against Vernon Hills, a team that took second in the state last year.

“I think we just came out really strong and played defense as a team,” said Ross. “We knew what was coming from them. We watched film. We knew what we had to do.”

It started with trying to shut down Sterling’s high-scoring Stephanie Kester. Ross and Delacruz in the backcourt had a lot to do with Kester going scoreless. There were hands tipping passes and slapping at the ball all night long.

“It all went back to working hard in practice and knowing what they were doing is all,” said Delacruz, who had four steals.

It wasn’t just steals, but deflected passes and complete disruption by Central that finished Sterling (21-13). The Rockets scored 18 first-half points off Sterling turnovers.

On the night they either stole the ball, intercepted a pass or deflected the ball to a teammate on 17 of the 28 turnovers. They also forced two travels and a five-second call.

“Our team is very agile and reactive, and we’re always anticipating and it changes the game,” said sophomore post player Alison Colby.

It was Holt who triggered the rout on the offensive side by scoring her team’s first nine points, all on three-pointers. She gave the Rockets a 9-4 lead.

“It was huge, it was insane,” Holt said of the quick three-point start. “Everyone we needed to contributed. I didn’t think I’d been playing that well but this was a good start. We needed it.”

Then Samantha Pryor hit a three-pointer, one of five the Rockets had in the first half, and Rebecca Gehrke got inside to complete a three-point play for a 17-6 lead.

“If you’re a shooter and the first one goes in like Shelby’s, then you’ve got a good feeling,” Smith said. “Once you hit a three, it gets contagious, also. Some of the other girls were hitting threes then.”

Sterling’s fast break cut the deficit to 17-11 ending the quarter, and Central almost seemed to take this as a wakeup call defensively. For the next 19 minutes the Rockets held Sterling to eight points.

If Sterling had designs on coming back from a 32-15 halftime deficit, it ended quickly when Ross made a fast break layup and Delacruz stole the ball and fed Ross for a layup and a 36-15 lead 1-1/2 minutes into the third quarter. Ross then stole the ball twice more in the next 1-1/2 minutes.

Post player Kiarra Harris wound up leading Sterling with nine points. The Warriors trailed 49-19 with 6:12 remaining before “padding” their point total against reserves.

Gehrke had nine points and Pryor seven for the Rockets, who shot 50 percent on the night (21-of-42). Sterling shot 27 percent, but had only 26 shots at the hoop and 11 of those came in the last quarter.

So the team with five freshmen and four sophomores won the first sectional since Ralph Hix coached the 1984 team to one, and is heading to a supersectional. Even Smith admitted it’s more than he could have hoped for when he took over this year.

“It’s amazing,” added Colby, who is a sophomore. “I never would have expected it.”

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