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To knock off Belvidere North in the Class 3A Sycamore sectional championship game Thursday night the Kaneland girls basketball team needed to do all the little things right.
Dive for loose balls? Check.
Defend like crazy? Like they always do.
Play composed in front of big crowds for both the Knights and Blue Thunder? They finished with a reasonable 15 turnovers.
Hit your free throws, especially in the pressure-packed final 8 minutes?
That was the one thing that got away from Kaneland Thursday. The Knights went just 5 of 12 at the line including misses on a pair of key front ends of 1-and-1s as Belvidere North began pulling away in the fourth quarter.
The result was a 43-31 loss, a misleading final score in that the game was much tighter than that all night.
"Free throws hurt us tonight," Kaneland coach Ernie Colombe said. "In big games like this those things come back to bite you. I think they kind of deflate you."
Kaneland (20-10) also had trouble connecting from the field shooting just 33 percent (13 of 39). Belvidere North (23-9), who will play Vernon Hills in the Elgin supersectional Monday, contributed to those shooting woes led by center Katie Dovenmuehle with 4 blocked shots.
"They were blocking our shot and I feel like some of us were getting down after that and we weren't trying to shoot as much and we needed to score more," Kaneland junior Ashley Prost said. "I think that was probably a big factor."
Both teams came out slow, the Knights not making a field goal for the first six minutes until a Kelly Evers drive.
Alli Liss followed with a layup after Brooke Harner's steal and assist, and Harner's baseline jumper put the Knights up 7-4. But Kaneland lost Belvidere's best 3-point shooter Kirsten Larson who hit a 3 at the buzzer to tie the game at 7 after one.
"Those were big," Colombe said of that shot and another Blue Thunder 3-pointer to close the third quarter. "We had a little momentum going."
Baskets by Evers and Allyson O'Herron gave Kaneland an 11-7 lead early in the second quarter before a seven-minute field goal drought allowed Belvidere North to take an 18-14 halftime lead.
Dovenmuehle and Anna Martenson both made life difficult when the Knights tried to score inside.
"We struggled a little with their size," Colombe said. "They blocked a bunch of shots. Their size hurt us. We were trying to draw contact and we didn't do that. That's a good team. I attribute a lot of that to them."
Kaneland started strong in the second half tying the game at 18 when Emma Bradford fed Evers for a bucket and again at 22 on a second-chance score by Evers.
As they did in both the first and second quarters the Knights then went into another extended stretch without making a basket. The Blue Thunder scored the final 7 points of the third and the first 2 of the fourth to grab control at 31-24.
Kaneland had chances early in the fourth quarter to draw closer but the combination of missed free throws and a few turnovers hurt. With two minutes left in the game Sarah Grams scored on a layup and Prost followed with a stickback to bring the Knights within 36-31. Belvidere North didn't get rattled, making 7 of its final 8 free throws to close out the game.
Colombe took his starters out with 45 seconds left to a loud cheer from the Kaneland crowd appreciating their long postseason run and 20-win season.
"I'm super proud of the kids," Colombe said. "Our staff has worked very hard. Great group of coaches and couldn't have a greater group of kids in the program right now. We have a bunch of kids returning. Hopefully they got a taste of this and want to get back. We have nothing to hang our heads about."
Dovenmuehle finished with game-highs of 12 points and 10 rebounds for the Blue Thunder who won their first sectional title after losing to Montini in last year's sectional championship.
"This team wouldn't be denied tonight," Belvidere North coach Michael Bradford said. "We stress defense. We get after it. That's (Kaneland) a nice ballclub. Their starting five can hurt you at every position. I was a little nervous coming in wondering if we could handle them at all five positions."
Evers and Prost led Kaneland in both scoring (11 each) and rebounding (8 and 7, respectively) while the rest of the Knights combined for 9 points.
In the 8-player rotation Colombe used most of the game, only Evers graduates.
"It was exciting that we got this far, the first time in 22 years, but next year we are going to come out stronger and go farther because we know what it feels like to lose now," Prost said.
"It was a great atmosphere," Colombe said. "I think the kids enjoyed the atmosphere of the playoffs. We had a great crowd tonight, a lot of support from the community and the school and the kids got a taste for that. They have to want to come back to it and I think they do. They have a lot of things to look forward to."