With freshman scoring leader Shelby Holt out sick, the Burlington Central girls basketball team knew it would have to step up its game Tuesday night when the Rockets hosted Richmond-Burton in a battle of Big Northern East unbeatens.
Central did just that, especially in the second half when it outscored the visiting Rockets 30-12 to roll to a 52-30 victory.
The win was Burlington Central's first over Richmond in the last six meetings between the two, dating back to Jan. 28, 2010. And, it put BC in the driver's seat, for the moment at least, in the BN-East as Central vies for its first conference title since 2006-07.
"Nice second half," smiled Central coach Mark Smith. "That was fun."
Smith was also pleased to see his 11-2, 4-0 team bounce back after losing a tough 42-39 decision to Crystal Lake South Saturday in the Northern Illinois Holiday Classic, a tournament BC returns to on Thursday when the Rockets take on McHenry at Woodstock.
"It was nice to bounce back after a loss," Smith said. "The older girls really wanted to beat Richmond."
As it's been for Central all season, it was a team effort. Freshman Samantha Pryor, starting in Holt's place, led the way with 17 points and 7 rebounds, but the 3-point shooting of senior Camille Dela Cruz and junior Kathleen Ratzek opened the game up in the third quarter.
"We figured the whole team had to step it up tonight," Pryor said. "It's hard to play a fast-paced game with nine players but the whole team played well tonight."
Central was close to putting the game away at the end of the first half. Leading 20-11 after a Dela Cruz 3-pointer with 1:51 left in the half, BC was outscored 7-2 and led 22-18 at halftime. Ahead 22-15 after a Pryor basket with 26 seconds left in the half, the host Rockets committed an ill-advised foul on Richmond's Abby Straight on a 3-point attempt with seven seconds to go. Straight made all 3 free throws to bring Richmond to within 4 at the break.
But BC came out hot to start the second half, scoring the first 6 points to gain a 10-point advantage. The lead was 9, 32-23, with 2:44 left in the third quarter when Ratzek hit a 3-pointer, Dela Cruz buried one and then Ratzek drilled another with three seconds left to give BC a 41-26 lead going into the final quarter. Pryor then scored the first 7 points of the fourth quarter, one of them a 3-pointer, as Central took a 48-26 lead and never looked back. On the night, Burlington Central was 7 of 13 from long range against a Richmond team coached by Courtney (Weibel) LuDois, the 2007 Hononegah standout who held the national high school career 3-point record, making 471 in her prep career, before the mark was broken by Ashley Wirtzberger of Gila Bend, Ariz., in 2010 with 500. Weibel LuDois went on to play four years at Marquette and is in her first year at Richmond.
"Kathleen hit some big 3s and played within herself," said Smith, whose team was 21 of 43 shooting on the night and turned the ball over only 10 times in the first three quarters. "I was really impressed with Camille Dela Cruz in the second half. She controlled the game and she was a steadying influence. She showed a lot of leadership. And Samantha Pryor had a real nice game. She didn't force things. I know she is trying to get into the starting lineup but we kind of like what we have with her coming off the bench. She looked real good out there tonight."
Dela Cruz and Ratzek each had 9 points for BC, while freshman Becca Gerke added 6 points and 7 rebounds. Senior Andrea Fox led Richmond (6-7, 3-1) with 10 points.