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The Burlington Central girls basketball team reached one milestone Wednesday night and will get to shoot for another on Friday.
But Hampshire sure did make it tough on the Rockets.
Central made 10 of 14 from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter, and despite not making a single field goal in the final 12 minutes of the game, the top-seeded Rockets survived, knocking off No. 5 seed Hampshire 36-26 in the semifinals of the Class 3A Burlington Central regional.
With the win, the Rockets (24-4) set a new program record for wins in a season. Friday, they will get a shot at the program's first regional title since 1990 and only the fourth in program history when they take on No. 2 seed Plano (21-6) at 7:30 p.m. The Reapers, coached by former Bartlett softball coach Mario Serra, nipped Kaneland 52-51 in Wednesday's second semifinal.
"I've coached with a lot of great coaches," said BC coach Mark Smith, mentioning St. Charles legend Ron Johnson and Palatine's Ed Molitor. "I learned that no matter what happens the first game of the regional isn't going to go the way you want, but a win is a win. As long as you move on to the next game that's all that matters."
The win also brought to an end a long postseason hex Hampshire has had on Central. The last time the Rockets beat the Whip-Purs in a postseason game was a 39-38 regional semifinal win in 1990. In between then and now, Hampshire had ended Central's season 13 times.
But on Wednesday, the Rockets had just enough to get past their longtime rival. And it looked early on like it would be a rout. Central made its first three 3-point attempts and jumped out to a 14-5 lead after one quarter.
But then Hampshire's defense toughened up and the Rockets couldn't buy a basket of any kind. After going 3-for-3 on 3-pointers to start the game, BC missed its next nine 3-point attempts until freshman Kayla Ross finally buried one with 5:11 left in the third quarter that put the Rockets up 23-14.
"I thought we came out with a great game plan," said Hampshire coach Ed Haugens. "Defensively, I'm very proud of the way the girls played tonight. We limited their shots and forced them into some bad shots. We missed a few rebounds and we didn't get a few shots to fall, that's all."
Neither team shot particularly well, with much of that attributed to tough defense on both ends of the floor. Central was just 10 of 31 for the game and Hampshire 10 of 33.
Hampshire (11-17) cut the Rockets' lead to 26-23 when freshman Nikki Dumoulin spotted up and hit a 3-pointer after a BC turnover with 3:30 left in the game. Central turned the ball over on its next possession but a steal from freshman Shelby Holt under the Hampshire basket led to sophomore Alison Colby starting the BC-free throw parade by making two from the line with 2:39 to go to make it 28-23. Senior Camille Delacruz made 3 of 4 and freshman Sam Pryor 2 of 2 before Hampshire could score again, giving BC an insurmountable 33-23 lead with 58 seconds left.
"A win is a win," said Delacruz, who had 5 steals and 3 assists. "I was nervous and I know everybody was. We don't want this to end. But it's the first regional game and you don't know what to expect. We practice free throws a lot and we just had to knock them down."
Ross led the Rockets with 11 points, while Holt added 8.
"We were a little sloppy with the ball but in the fourth quarter we kept our composure," Smith said. "We came through strong in the end and knocked down some free throws."
Senior Jen Dumoulin led the Whip-Purs with 12 points and 6 rebounds.
"We were down 25 at halftime the last time we played them," said Haugens. "We got better since then and I'm proud of that. That's all a coach can ask for."