Jumping from Class 3A to Class 4A was not going to be an easy task for the Grayslake North girls basketball team this season.
Despite being one of the smaller schools in Class 4A this season, the sixth-seeded host Knights found themselves in the regional championship game Thursday night against No. 3 Zion-Benton.
For three quarters, Grayslake North hung tough with the Zee-Bees, who took a 55-54 lead into the fourth quarter.
But that would be the end of the road for the Knights, as the Zee-Bees went on a 13-0 run to start the fourth quarter in a 74-58 victory for the regional title.
Zion-Benton (19-9) will face No. 2 Fremd (25-7) at 7:30 p.m. Monday in the Libertyville sectional semifinals.
Grayslake North (26-4), which had its best season in school history, played some inspired basketball late in the first half, as an 11-2 run gave the Knights a 37-34 lead with 18 seconds left in the second quarter.
The Zee-Bees cut the gap to 37-36 at halftime before the Knights built their biggest lead of the game at 44-38 on a driving rebound basket by sophomore Emily Dugan with 4:35 left in the third quarter.
Some full-court pressure by Zion-Benton in the second half started to turn the tables though, as the Zee-Bees went on a 17-10 run to end the third quarter.
Things got much rougher for the Knights in the fourth quarter as their 3-point shooting went cold and Zion-Benton continued to surge. A 22-6 run going back to the late part of the third quarter made the score 66-54 with 3:13 to play.
"I think our pressure defense was the factor and I'm so happy for Syerra Cunningham. She's never won a regional and she's a senior," said Zion-Benton coach Tanya Johnson, whose team outscored the Knights 19-4 in the fourth quarter. "Grayslake North's kids did a great job. They had a great season, and they play really well together."
The Knights' future looks promising, as junior Kendall Detweiler scored 13 of her team-high 19 points in the first half. Junior Brittney Thibeaux had 11 of her 16 points in the first half, and Dugan netted 10 of her 12 points in the first half.
Cunningham scored 11 points in each half for her game-high 22 points. Her teammate Samantha Rodriguez scored 14 of her 19 points in the first half.
The Zee-Bees' 13-0 fourth-quarter run capped a 24-6 surge, which finally ended on 2 free throws by Detweiller with 2:33 remaining.
"When (Zion-Benton) came out with that pressure in the third quarter, that really turned the tide and they do that really well," said Grayslake North coach Nate Flannery. "I'm still extremely proud of them, though, and we still have a lot of talent coming back."
The Zee-Bees' size and rebounding proved to be a tough obstacle for the Knights to match. Zion-Benton got some good scoring support from Mia Yarbrough, Krystal Walker and T.T. Maggett with 8 points each.
"We had good inside-outside play, but unfortunately we were unable to get stops," said Flannery, whose team hit all seven of its 3-pointers in the first half. "We played more zone (defense) than we typically do. If you don't drive Cunningham out of the paint, she is going to come away with the basketball."