Vernon Hills wins sectional title

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It wasn’t pretty at times, but Vernon Hills found a way to overcome 21 turnovers and get the job done in its Class 3A sectional championship game against Regina Thursday night.

The result was a 42-30 victory for the top-seeded Cougars — who despite a sluggish start on offense — proved to be the better club when it mattered most en route to their second consecutive sectional crown.

Vernon Hills will play Burlington Central in the Hoffman Estates Supersectional next Monday night, at 7:30 p.m. But it didn’t come easily.

Ahead by just four points early in the third quarter, Vernon Hills juniors Lauren Webb (nine points, six rebounds) and Sydney Smith (eight points, six rebounds, four assists) connected on back-to-back three-pointers to push the Cougars ahead by double-digits for good. It was part of a key 15-3 run that proved too much for the visiting Panthers to overcome.

Prior to the consecutive threes, Vernon Hills (29-2) was just 9-for-27 from the field. But they warmed up and shot 6-of-13 in the third.

“I think the crowd really contributed to our run in the third,” Smith said. “We had a lot of people show up to the game tonight and every time they’d cheer, or anytime we’d hear Regina’s crowd cheer, it got us really pumped up.”

Their lead ballooned to as many as 16 in the fourth quarter. The tireless play of Cougars senior forward Alina Lehocky, who scored eight points and ripped down a career-high 15 rebounds, was a huge reason why.

“Alina does so many little things well,” Vernon Hills coach Paul Brettner said. “She was everywhere tonight. She’s a hero on our squad and usually doesn’t get the credit she deserves for all the dirty work she does out there.”

Senior Meri-Bennett Swanson (10 points, 12 rebounds), meanwhile, added a double-double for the Cougars, who dominated Regina (22-9) both defensively and in the paint.

Vernon Hills held the Panthers to just 20 percent shooting from the field (12-for-60), including an ice cold 4-of-27 from three-point range. They also out-rebounded Regina by a 51-16 margin.

Erin Gavin finished with a team-high 13 points for the Panthers.

“Vernon Hills is big, and that was too much for us to overcome,” Regina coach Kerry Durham said. “Words can’t say how proud I am of this team. We only had six wins last year. This year we had 22.”

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