The Crystal Lake South girls basketball team got a taste of what could have happened if it didn't have a knack all season for winning close games.
That special capacity alone averted a major crisis at Gator Alley Wednesday night as crosstown rival Prairie Ridge did all it could to spoil the party for the Class 4A regional hosts, who refused to quit after being down as much as 17 in the first half.
Third-seeded PR rallied to cut South's lead to 2 with 1:42 remaining after Alex Neckopulos broke free on a shot fake and converted a 3-point play to the dismay of Gators coach Kyle McCaughn, who called for time as it put the rematch of last year's regional final between South and Cary-Grove in serious jeopardy.
But as South had done all season, the Gators would come through in the clutch. Lauren Del Vecchio ended South's 8-minute field goal drought with a 3-point play of her own with 1:27 remaining, helping the second-seeded Gators escape with a 42-36 regional semifinal win over the Wolves, launching them into Friday's title game against top-seeded Cary-Grove, which beat the Gators 28-27 in last year's regional final. Cary-Grove and South split their two meetings this season. Friday's winner will advance to the Rockford East sectional next week to play Streamwood or South Elgin.
"That's a team in Prairie Ridge that never stopped, never stopped fighting and gave us everything we could handle," said McCaughn, whose team led 25-11 at intermission and had already beaten the Wolves twice this season. "Boy, in the second half they sure came out, hit a couple shots and (Sarah) LeBeau gets hot. They made it a game. It's good for us."
Del Vecchio's sequence served as a saving grace for South, whose last field goal came at the 1:30 mark of the third and had turned the ball over 11 times against PR's 2-2-1 press. CLS (23-6) went 6 of 11 from the free throw line in the fourth quarter and attempted just 10 field goals in the second half, being outscored 25-17.
"They were all worried about Stephanie (Oros) and all four of our girls were on ball side," Del Vecchio said, who was wide open under the basket, got the ball near the left block and made a U-turn to the hoop. "I knew I had to go in and when I got the foul I knew I had to put that free throw in. It was our turn to get that momentum back and finish the game."
Momentum swung like a pendulum for PR (16-10) at the end of the first half when Brianne Fenton escaped with a loose ball and nailed a 3-pointer on a runner at the buzzer in the left wing, cutting South's commanding 17-point lead to 14.
That provoked PR, mainly LeBeau, to go 3-point crazy and press-happy in the third. The junior nailed 3 from the outside and scored all of her 11 points in the quarter as PR shaved the lead to 10 heading into the fourth.
"We used a 2-2-1, a little 2-2-1 on them," Wolves coach Rob Baker said. "They want to get up and down the court as fast as they can and they're really good at it."
Carly Nolan led South with a game-high 13 points 8 rebounds. Oros had 3 points and 8 assists, as South turned it over 24 times but shot 16 of 30 from the field.