There have been many nights this season when the Hampshire girls basketball team has not been able to battle back from an early deficit.
Tuesday was not one of those nights.
Trailing by as many as 12 point late in the second quarter, the Whip-Purs began their comeback with an 8-3 run to end the half. Then they came out of the locker room on fire, blitzing Sycamore with a 17-3 third quarter that led to an eventual 51-43 win in the opening round of the Class 3A Burlington Central regional.
Fifth-seeded Hampshire (11-16) will take on No. 1 seed Burlington Central (23-4) at 6 p.m. today in the semifinals. The Whips, who lost to Central 49-37 earlier in the season at Central, have ended the Rockets' season 10 times since 1995-96. No. 2 seed Plano meets No. 3 Kaneland in the second semifinal with the winners returning to Rocket Hill Friday at 7:30 p.m. for the regional title and a trip to next week's Genoa-Kingston sectional.
"I'm very proud of them tonight," said Hampshire coach Ed Haugens of his team. "This is a huge step for us. Earlier in the season, I don't know if we would have come back. But the girls did a great job tonight. They shared the ball and I was impressed with our rebounding and our intensity."
Freshman center Emma Benoit scored 18 points and had 10 rebounds for Hampshire, while junior Sara Finn added 13 points, including two key 3-pointers in the second half. The Whips were an efficient 20-for-36 shooting and outrebounded the Spartans 30-14.
"We just didn't give up and we played as a team," said Benoit, who scored 13 second-half points. "It all comes down to battling back. When you mess up, you have to fix it."
It wasn't that Hampshire really messed anything up in falling behind 14-4 after one quarter and 23-11 with 2:08 left in the first half. Sycamore (14-12) was 5-for-7 in the first quarter, including 3-for-4 from 3-point range, while Hampshire was just 2 of 6.
But that aforementioned 8-3 run to end the half, sparked by Benoit's basket just before the buzzer, left the Whips down 26-19 at the break and with some hope.
Sycamore led 28-19 early in the third quarter but a Finn basket with 6:32 to go sparked an incredible 21-1 run that put Hampshire ahead 40-29 after a Finn 3-pointer with 7:29 left in the game. It was a Benoit 6-footer that tied the game at 29 and senior Jen Dumoulin drove the lane for a layup to put Hampshire ahead 31-29 with 1:50 left in the third. The Whips would hold the lead the rest of the night. Sycamore got as close as 46-41 on a 3-pointer from sophomore Bailey Gilbert (17 points) with 2:25 to play but a hustling Benoit hit a layup with 2:12 left to make it 48-41 and Sycamore got no closer.
"She's such ain inside force," said Haugens of the 6-foot-1 Benoit. "There aren't many kids who are the leading rebounder on their team and also the first one to get to the other end of the floor. That shows the heart she has."
Now the Whip-Purs will take on rival Central, which is ranked No. 10 in Class 3A this week.
"They just have so many weapons," said Haugens of the Rockets. "We'll have to limit them to one shot and we'll have to play our best basketball."