Sometimes, the winner is the team that can tough it out the best.
Saturday, that team was Crystal Lake South. The Gators took control early, then held off a late Burlington Central comeback to win 42-39 in the Northern Illinois Girls Holiday Classic at Woodstock High School.
The Gators, 3-0 in the tournament (10-4 overall) advance to the championship bracket next week at McHenry High School. They will take on Lakes on Thursday.
"We just played three games in less than 24 hours," said South coach Kyle McCaughn. "That's hard on the kids, and for them to be as mentally tough in the end as they were was a nice thing to see."
Sara Mickow led a balanced attack for the Gators, scoring 11 points. She also grabbed 12 rebounds. Stephanie Oros added 9 points, Chanel Fanter 8, and Carly Nolan and Rachel Rasmussen 6 apiece for South. Nolan also had 10 rebounds.
The Gators led by double digits for much of the second half, but with Alison Colby scoring 6 of her 8 points in the fourth quarter, the Rockets slowly chipped away. A 7-0 run cut a 12-point deficit to 36-31 with 6 minutes left.
The Rockets got as close as 40-37 and had a chance to tie, but a 3-pointer missed. Fanter's layup at the other end gave the Gators some breathing space.
Camille Dela Cruz and Shelby Holt scored 7 points apiece for Central. Samantha Pryor added 6 points off the bench on a pair of 3-pointers. Colby also grabbed 9 rebounds, but the taller Gators held a 30-19 advantage on the boards.
"We just kind of chipped away at the lead, forced a few turnovers," said Central coach Mark Smith. "We didn't really get the pressure that we wanted for the whole game, but I was proud of the comeback that we made in the second half."
The chance to play in the championship bracket kept the Gators going despite the grueling schedule.
"We just needed to maintain the momentum and keep the lead up," said Mickow. "We were all pretty motivated because we wanted to end up in a good position at the end of the tournament."
The Rockets (9-2 overall), who beat North Chicago 53-44 in their earlier game on Saturday. stand at 2-1 in the field and will stay at Woodstock next week for the second-place bracket. BC will play McHenry on Thursday.
CL South 54, Woodstock 37: Sara Mickow had 14 points and Rachel Rasmussen added 13 for the Gators in their first game of the day at the tournament. Carly Nolan added 11 points for CL South, Lauren Del Vecchio added 8 and Chanel Fanter had 5 assists.