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The Elgin girls basketball team got to do something Thursday night it rarely has done the last several years.
Taking over a tight game in the second quarter, the Maroons pulled away from Alden-Hebron, holding as much as a 24-point lead early in the fourth quarter before coming away with a 55-40 victory in the semifinals of the Elgin Academy Thanksgiving Tournament.
Elgin (2-1) will play the winner of tonight's game between Nazareth and Woodlands in the 3:30 p.m. Saturday championship game.
It's the first time Elgin has been 2-1 since the 2008-09 season and only the third time since 1996-97.
And while Elgin has won its last two games against Class 1A schools, Maroons' coach Dr. Nick Bumbales is just excited to see his team improve and win.
"It's a process, a slow process," said Bumbales. "It's a big boat that takes a long time to turn around. I'm just trying to recapture some of the magic. We're not looking for conference or state championships. (Playing a lighter schedule) may not be the right move for everybody but it's the right move for us."
The inspired Maroons trailed 12-11 after one quarter Thursday but then outscored the Giants 32-9 over the next 16 minutes. Leading 25-17 early in the third quarter Elgin went on a 12-0 run and took a 37-17 lead on a basket by junior Melanie Berg (10 points) with 3:32 left in the third. Bumbales started to empty his bench but Hebron came back from down 45-21 to within 45-34 with 3:08 left in the game, prompting Bumbales to put his starters back in to secure the win.
"(Wednesday) we had issues holding the ball at the end," Bumbales said of a 38-35 win over Willows in the opening round of the tournament. "Today was better. They haven't been in these situations, but I'm real happy with everyone's effort."
Senior Kristen Tayag added 9 points and senior Jessica Ramirez had 9 points and 13 rebounds for the Maroons, while junior Anna Eckholm pitched in 7 points. Senior point guard Maggie Powers had 6 points and efficiently ran an offense that had 27 turnovers, far less than the Maroons have had in a game in quite some time.
"It's very important," said Powers of the two straight wins. "It boosts our self-esteem and has us looking forward to a better season. We've got really good chemistry and it's not just the chemistry but we're executing."
Bumbales was able to play his entire roster and sophomore Destiny West came off the bench to score 5 points and grab 11 rebounds as Elgin won the rebounding battle 54-35. The Maroons were 23 of 70 shooting while Hebron was 13-for-52.
"Everyone contributed," said Bumbales. "Jim Harrington came to our game Monday night and gave me some great advice — to just keep it simple. Those were calming words from a Hall of Fame coach."