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GENOA -- The Burlington Central girls basketball team sure picked a good time to play its best game of the season.
And now the stage lights get just a little brighter for the Rockets.
Freshman Shelby Holt hit three 3-pointers in the first four minutes of the game and the Rockets' defense was relentless in a 49-26 win over Sterling Thursday night in the championship game of the Class 3A Genoa-Kingston sectional.
The win puts the Rockets (27-4), winners of 12 straight, in Monday's 7:30 p.m. Hoffman Estates supersectional opposite defending Class 3A state runner-up Vernon Hills (29-2), a 42-30 winner over Regina Dominican Thursday in the VH sectional title game.
Monday's game will mark the first time a Burlington Central basketball team, boys or girls, has played in an IHSA Elite Eight game. The 1984 Rockets also won a sectional title, advancing to the Sweet Sixteen in Class A. The 1987 team lost to St. Edward in the program's only other sectional final appearance.
Monday's winner will advance to next weekend's Final Four at Redbird Arena in Normal to play either three-time defending state champion Montini or Chicago Phillips in the state semifinals.
"Wow, what a performance," beamed first-year BC coach Mark Smith. "We played fantastic defense and we did exactly what we wanted to do. We played within ourselves. Shelby hit those 3s and if you're a shooter, like Shelby is, and that first one goes in, it gives you a good feeling."
Holt, who had struggled with her shot some during regional play and in the sectional semifinals, used a little extra practice early Thursday morning with former Rockets' coach Darlene Guyett, who is still a teacher at the school, to get straightened out.
"I've been working outside of practice and I have a lot of people supporting me," said Holt, who scored 11 points in the win. "I knew I had to have a big game and everyone had to contribute. This is huge. We all wanted it but from every direction people told us junior year, junior year, so we all had the motivation to do it this year. Supersectional as a freshman? Oh my goodness, it's crazy. We don't want it to end."
Sterling (20-13) stayed with the Rockets early, 9-6, despite Holt's three 3s. But freshmen Becca Gerke and Sam Pryor scored the next 8 points for Central, putting the Rockets up 17-6. Sterling closed to 17-11 by the end of the first quarter but BC went on a 6-0 spurt to open the second as Pryor, sophomore Alison Colby and Holt all scored, and the closest the Golden Warriors would come the rest of the night was 8, 23-15, with 3:05 left in the half. Central went on a 9-0 run to end the half, fueled at the end by a 3-pointer from freshman Kayla Ross and then a drive to the basket from the left side by Ross with two seconds left to end the half with a 32-15 lead. Central, which shot 21 of 41 on the night, had as big as a 28-point lead twice in the second half.
The Rockets' defense helped cause 26 Sterling turnovers and Central grabbed 10 offensive rebounds, winning the glass war 19-17.
"We won as a team," said Ross, who had a team-high 14 points to go with 6 steals and 4 assists. "We knew what we had to do. We played as a team and got our shots up. Defense is a big part of our game. We stopped them and played good defense."
The Rockets shut down Sterling senior Stephanie Kester, who hit six 3-pointers and scored 24 points in the Warriors' sectional semifinal win over Rockford Lutheran. On Thursday, Kester was held scoreless and missed all four of her 3-point attempts. Senior Camille Delacruz (6 steals) helped Ross with the perimeter defense and Sterling couldn't penetrate the lane with any effectiveness, creating a situation where the Warriors were only able to take 25 shots in the game, making 11.
"The girls executed," Smith said. "We wanted to stop (Kester) and stop their fast break. We were strong with the basketball and we did exactly what we wanted to do.
"This is beyond my wildest dreams and I'm sure theirs also. They don't want to stop playing. I really care about this team and I'm just so proud of them and so happy for them. They're so coachable. It's just been a riot the last few weeks and a lot of fun all season. They weren't nervous at all tonight; they were rarin' to go."
Gerke added 9 points for the Rockets and Pryor had 7. Central only turned the ball over seven times through three quarters. Junior Kiarra Harris led Sterling with 9 points.
"Unfortunately we picked a bad night to not play well and they picked a good night to play well," said Sterling coach Julie Schroeder, the former Central coach who had the Warriors in a sectional for the second straight year. "Hats off to them. They played well."