Burlington Central advances to final

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Experience is overrated, especially if you play defense, smart offense, and have a bench deep enough to come at opponents in waves like Burlington Central’s girls basketball team.

The freshmen- and sophomore-dominated squad continued to defy basketball logic Tuesday in a big way, dominating Marian Central throughout the second half for a 54-29 victory in the semifinals of the Class 3A Genoa-Kingston Sectional.

The Rockets (26-4) did it with their usual mix of relentless defense, heads-up play and offense from many different sources to earn a championship matchup Thursday against Sterling.

“It was fun to watch,’’ said Central’s first-year coach Mark Smith. “We really played hard. I thought the girls were a little bit nervous in the beginning but as the game went on that kind of gets out of your system.’’

By the middle of the second quarter the jitters were gone and by the middle of the fourth quarter so was Marian Central. Rockets 5-foot-7 freshman defensive ace Kayla Ross took on much of the responsibility for stopping 5-10 senior Marian Central scoring leader Shannon Wuensch in the second half and held her to four points, all on free throws after she had scored 11 in the first half to keep the Hurricanes within 26-19 at the half.

“What we noticed about Wuensch was she didn’t really want to put the ball on the floor and go to the hole,’’ Smith said. “She wanted to stand back and shoot threes.

“We know Kayla has got the quickness to get up on her and make her put the ball on the floor and shoot contested threes. I didn’t think they ever really tried to take advantage of that size mismatch so we just stuck with it.’’

Ross saw it more as a team effort defensively, as Marian Central had only three second-half field goals — all of them by post player Hannah Davis — in 22 attempts (14 percent).

“We put a lot of pressure on them in the second half and we came out knowing what we had to do,” Ross said. “On offense, we were running through the offense better with our plays.’’

With 14 second-half turnovers, the Hurricanes (16-12) had little to counter Central’s deep bench play, especially the scoring of forward Samantha Pryor. The freshman reserve came on in the second quarter with the game tied at 14 and scored seven of her team-high 16 points as Smith went with an unusual lineup that included his “bigs,” 5-10 Pryor with 6-foot starting sophomore Alison Colby and 6-foot reserve Rebecca Gerke. The Rockets went on an 8-2 run in a second quarter when they outscored Marian Central 14-7 and never led by less than seven again.

“I love our team,” Pryor said. “We can play anyone off the bench. Like coach says, he has 10 starters.’’

Ross finished with 11 points, including a layup and two free throws in the fourth quarter during a 10-2 run that put the game away. Then Rockets hit their first 13 free throws in the fourth quarter while protecting the lead and building on it.

Colby finished with a team-high 14 points and seven Rockets scored.

“Defensively, throughout the game our pressure, I think, wore them down a little bit,” Smith said. “If we made a few layups it would have been a little less nerve-wracking but by the fourth quarter we just turned the pressure up and just kept going.’’

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