It took longer than expected, but Wheaton-Warrenville South found its diamond in the lane Thursday night.
After taking just two shots through three quarters, 6-4 senior center Diamond Thompson finally got the ball with regularity in the fourth quarter. The Notre Dame recruit took advantage and scored eight of her 12 points to lead the top-seeded Tigers to a come-from-behind 53-45 victory over crosstown rival Wheaton North at the Class 4A Bartlett Sectional title game.
The win gave No. 6 WW South (29-3) its first sectional championship since 1997 and a spot opposite Huntley in Monday’s Dundee-Crown Supersectional.
Thompson’s fourth-quarter production followed a stern lecture from Tigers’ coach Rob Kroehnke, who used some choice words in urging his players to find Thompson.
“You can’t print it,” Kroehnke said of the conversation. “You can’t print it. Let’s just say it was: get her the stinking ball.”
The Tigers, who tied the school record for wins in beating the Falcons (23-8) for the third time this season, obeyed Kroehnke by feeding Thompson on the first three possessions of the fourth quarter.
Thompson scored on all three and junior Meghan Waldron followed with a pair of layups, the second of which came after Thompson blocked a shot, as WW South began the quarter with a 10-0 run to break a 32-32 tie.
“[Kroehnke] kind of demanded that we get it inside,” Thompson said. “He thought I was open the first half and so he challenged me to get the ball and finish and that’s what we did, fortunately.”
Thompson, who was 6-for-6 from the floor and blocked four shots, is an intimidating yet quiet presence for the Tigers, who will need her to be more productive if they are to win their first state title.
“I think I need to be more vocal, let the team know I’m open, ask for the ball and keep my hand up where they can pass it,” she said.
Wheaton North, of course, was aware of that and made a concerted effort to keep an eye on Thompson while also trying to shut down the DePaul-bound Waldron.
“Wheaton North did what they had to, they really sagged in,” Kroehnke said. “There weren’t a lot of openings and it wasn’t going to be just jam it in there.
“It needed some passes, and we weren’t getting the movement and the passes on the perimeter to get that open look on the outside. It took a little coaxing to say, ‘hey, time to throw it inside,’ and Diamond stepped up and played well.”
She needed to because Waldron was held to 4-for-16 shooting from the floor. The dangerous guard finally erupted in the final period, scoring 10 of her 15 points, making her last two shots as well as 6-of-8 free throws down the stretch.
Poor shooting contributed to a slow start that saw the Falcons score the first 12 points in racing out to an 18-5 lead after one quarter. But the Tigers rallied behind their defense and offensive rebounding, outclassing North on the glass by a 17-4 margin on the offensive end and 38-23 overall.
Alyssa Zappia (seven points, nine rebounds) grabbed seven offensive boards and Waldron, who had nine boards and three steals, snagged four for the Tigers, who closed the gap to 23-20 at halftime.
“I think we came out a little too excited,” Thompson said. “We were too anxious to play, but we finally came back. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy, especially playing them three times.”
Indeed, the Tigers had beaten the Falcons by 15 and 23 points during the regular season, but there was nothing easy about this win.
“I’ve had more relaxing games than that,” Kroehnke said. “It’s still what we do at the defense end. We made our comeback in the second half because of our defense, and once we got the lead, we got in their heads a little bit.”
Olivia Linebarger had nine points, six rebounds, four assists and four steals for the Tigers, who also got seven points and four boards from Kelly Langlas.
Reilly Stewart, Chrissy Baird and Kelly Thornton all had 11 points for Wheaton North, which lost starting guard Brooke Schanowski to a suspected torn ACL three minutes into the game. Mandy Traversa added 10 points and seven boards for the Falcons, who were playing in the sectional final for the first time since 1986.