GENOA -- Not many freshmen are challenged with stopping the other team's best player, especially in a sectional semifinal.
Burlington Central's Kayla Ross was handed that task in the second half Tuesday night, and she came through with flying colors.
Ross spearheaded a Rockets' defense that held Marian Central senior standout Shannon Wuensch without a field goal in the second half, and the Rockets turned on the afterburners in the fourth quarter in a 54-29 win over Marian in the semifinals of the Class 3A Genoa-Kingston girls basketball sectional.
"She kept shooting 3s and I knew what I had to do to stop her," said Ross. "I just did what I had to do."
The Rockets (26-4) will take on Sterling (21-12) and former BC coach Julie Schroeder in Thursday's 7:30 p.m. sectional championship game with the winner advancing to next Monday's Hoffman Estates supersectional against either Vernon Hills or Regina Dominican. The sectional final appearance is the first for a Burlington Central girls team since 1987, when the Rockets lost to St. Edward and current IHSA girls basketball administrator Beth Sauser in a Class A sectional title game at Marengo. BC will be seeking the program's second sectional title and first since the Ralph Hix-coached 1984 team won a sectional crown.
Tuesday's 25-point win wasn't etched in stone until the fourth quarter, when the Rockets outscored Marian 22-4, led by 14 of 16 free-throw shooting.
"I thought our pressure wore them down a little and we turned it up a notch in the fourth quarter," said BC coach Mark Smith. "It was fun to watch."
Wuensch scored 11 of her 15 points in the first half as the Hurricanes (16-12) were able to stay close despite 7-for-30 shooting. BC led just 21-19 after a Wuensch 3-pointer with 3:08 left in the second quarter, but Rocket freshman Sam Pryor answered with a 3 just 17 seconds later, and Ross drove and hit a pullup jumper with 1:04 left to give the Rockets a 26-19 halftime lead.
Pryor had game-high 16 points to lead the Rockets, and Ross added 13.
"We came together as a team and really wanted to win," said Pryor, who added 3 assists. "(Wuensch) is a great player but we all came together to stop her and Kayla really stepped up."
Despite stretching the lead to 29-19 midway through the third quarter, the Rockets couldn't put the Hurricanes away. Marian got a basket from junior Hannah Davis (8 points) and 2 free throws from Wuensch to close to within 6, 29-23, but freshman Shelby Holt hit her only 3-pointer of the night at 3:16 to restore a 9-point lead. Davis scored late in the third to put BC's lead at 32-25 going into the final period.
And that's when the Rockets exploded, going on a 10-2 run to start the quarter, which gave them a 42-27 lead after a Ross basket with 4:24 to play. Wuensch's 2 free throws at 3:39 were Marian's last points. Central effectively controlled the basketball and scored 10 of its final 12 points from the free-throw line to pull away.
"I thought we attacked their zone much better from the second quarter on," said Smith. "Sam Pryor came into the game and we were able to get the ball into the short corner, which is what we wanted to do.
"I thought we were a little nervous in the beginning but as you go on that gets out of your system."
Smith agreed the defense on Wuensch was one of the keys.
"What we noticed about Wuensch was that she didn't want to put the ball on the floor, she wanted to step back and shoot 3s," said Smith, whose team helped cause 13 Marian turnovers in the second half. "We knew Kayla had the quickness to make her put the ball on the floor and Kayla was able to make her turn it over a couple times. (Wuensch) is a heck of a player but I thought Kayla did a nice job on her."
Sophomore Alison Colby added 12 points, 3 blocks and 3 steals for the Rockets, who shot 17-for-42 on the night and won the rebounding battle 41-29, led by 7 from senior Camille Delacruz, who also had 4 steals.