Aurora Central got outrebounded 46-29 and committed 25 turnovers during Thursday’s Class 3A St. Joseph Regional semifinal contest against the host school.
Normally that would prove devastating to a team, but somehow, some way, Aurora Central never lost its composure, made enough free throws and knocked down several big three-pointers to stun St. Joseph 71-66 in Westchester.
“If you would’ve told me that we were losing seven players from our state team and we’d be back playing for a regional title, I would’ve told you that I hope you’re right,” Aurora Central coach Mark Fitzgerald said. “But that’s because I believe in these kids and am very proud of what they did tonight.”
After sharing five ties in the first half, which included a 23-23 deadlock, Aurora Central scored the final 11 points of the first half to take 34-23 lead into halftime. Aurora Central converted 13 of 19 free throws in the first half.
Aurora Central continued to attack the basket in the second half. Realizing it didn’t have an answer to equalize the rebounding game while surrendering far too many putbacks, it turned to Lisa Rodriguez (20 points) and Gabi Alfaro (19 points) to attack the basket while Alex DeCraene proved deadly behind the three-point arc, draining four on the night to finish with 17 points.
“We kind of figured that this could be our last game so we played like we didn’t want it to be our last,” DeCraene said. “It was rough. Their big girls were doing a lot of bumping and shoving and we were just trying to get the ball to shoot on our end.”
St. Joseph didn’t go away easily and fed off its loud fans. A 6-0 run to close the third quarter reduced its deficit to 47-41.
“They kept coming back but we also did what we had to do,” Alfaro said. “We looked for the open man after getting rebounds, we made enough shots and we put in our free throws.”
The hosts kept chipping away but never got closer than four points.
Aurora Central will face Nazareth at 7:30 p.m. in the regional title game.
“We have six sophomores and one freshman and they all played tonight along with our seniors and one junior,” Fitzgerald said. “They’ve had all this season to grow and make mistakes, and now things are paying off with the composure they showed tonight. They’re not there yet totally, but they’re getting there.”
Chanel Brown and Emilie Liotine led St. Joseph with 13 points apiece. Brown also collected a game-high 13 rebounds while Amber Brooks had 11 boards.
Alex Horton led the winners with eight rebounds.