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Article updated: 2/28/2012 12:06 AM
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Baker the latest Bartlett player to make a difference
 

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Baker the latest Bartlett player to make a difference
  • Bartlett's Janessa Baker takes the ball to the hoop against DeKalb during a supersectional at Chesbrough Field House in Elgin on Monday night.

    Purchase Photo | Bartlett's Janessa Baker takes the ball to the hoop against DeKalb during a supersectional at Chesbrough Field House in Elgin on Monday night. Patrick Kunzer | Staff Photographer

 

The hardest Bartlett player to find during Monday night's postgame mayhem at Chesbrough Field House was Janessa Baker.

DeKalb probably wishes she wouldn't have shown up at all.

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In a sea of 6-footers on the fabled tartan floor at Elgin High, it was one of the smallest -- and quickest -- who turned the tide in the Hawks' 48-30 win over DeKalb in the Class 4A Elgin supersectional.

Someone had to.

DeKalb had shown the ability in the first half to take the paint away from Bartlett, something only a small handful of teams has been able to do this season as the No. 1 Hawks have rolled to a school-record 31 wins.

But quickness? DeKalb had no match for that, and it all started with Baker.

You kind of knew this 5-foot-5 sparkplug was going to do something big in the second half. Lisa Palmer, one of the six 6-footers playing in the game, blocked a Barbs' shot to open the second half and there was Baker laying it in on the other end to give the Hawks a 22-16 lead just 16 seconds into the half. That started an 8-0 run the Barbs never recovered from. It also started Bartlett athletic director Jeff Bral's planning to send his school's girls basketball team downstate for the second time since 2005, thus becoming the first Elgin Area School District U-46 girls basketball team to make it to Redbird Arena twice.

"(DeKalb) was really tough down low," said Baker, "so I figured it was my job to initiate something and get everyone involved."

Boy, did she. She distributed, she played in-your-face defense, she rebounded. She did it all for the Hawks, who seem during this postseason to have a different player doing that every night. Baker ended the game with 15 points and while she didn't have gaudy steal or assist stats, her drives to the basket and her catlike quickness on defense took DeKalb by surprise and opened up Bartlett's game in the second half.

"Janessa played fantastic," said Bartlett coach Denise Sarna, who donned the same green blazer she wore in Normal in 2005 when her team beat Bolingbrook on the way to a second-place finish in the Class AA state finals.

"We found our speed today and that's something we wanted to do. The game was slow-paced and the teams were tight. Janessa broke us out of that. Her penetrating the lane and her defense got everyone else going. It's nice when you can pick up a layup every now and then."

Baker's final basket of the night was also Bartlett's. It came with 6:32 left in the game and gave the Hawks a 48-27 lead. From there, they played such suffocating defense they didn't need to score again.

"Janessa really stepped it up tonight," said her senior mate, Haley Videckis, who also had 15 points in the Hawks' ninth straight win. "We need that when everyone is focused in on Kristin (Conniff) and me. We needed that tonight and Janessa did it."

If there's been a knock on Baker's game at all the past three years it's that sometimes she likes to go a little too fast. Kids with speed tend to do that now and then. But she's also matured and listened to her coaches and has now become as invaluable to the Hawks as anyone.

"The past three years coach Sarna has been telling me to control my speed," said Baker, who overcame a bad ankle sprain midway through the season. "I think I've gotten a lot better at that and I thank coach for that."

And now it's on to Redbird for Baker and the Hawks -- the place they all vowed to end their careers as far back as fifth grade when many of these seniors started playing basketball together. That's the same year, by the way, that Bartlett last played on the big stage in Normal.

"This is more than amazing," Baker said. "It's an indescribable feeling. It's something I've wanted since fifth grade and now I get to do it with all my friends. We're such a close family, and this is such an amazing way to end our careers."

The task will be a tough one for Bartlett to get back to the state championship game. Whitney Young is the opponent in Friday night's semifinals. And Whitney Young is, well, Whitney Young. For the first time in 33 games, Bartlett will be the underdog.

But that matters little until practice time today.

"This is a night to celebrate," Sarna said. "I couldn't be happier for a nicer group of kids. They've worked hard and they deserve it."

Every single one of them.

jradtke@dailyherald.com

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