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BELVIDERE -- The third-quarter blitz did it again for the Burlington Central girls basketball team.
Trailing Sycamore 20-18 at halftime Monday night the Rockets, just as they did in Saturday's regional championship win over St. Edward, turned it up a few notches to start the second half, leaving the stunned Spartans in their dust.
Junior Aly DeTamble, pressed into a starting role due to Shelby Holt's illness, and steady sophomore Kayla Ross spearheaded a defense that didn't allow Sycamore to get the ball across half-court on five-straight possessions. The result was a 10-0 run that catapulted the Rockets to a 42-28 win in the semifinals of the Class 3A Belvidere sectional.
Central (25-4) will go for its second-straight sectional championship and third in program history at 7 p.m. Thursday when it faces Rockford Lutheran (19-10), which beat Woodstock 67-57 in Monday's second semifinal.
"We just told them let's have 32 minutes like that not just 16," said BC coach Mark Smith, whose team notched its 52nd win in the last two seasons. "That was probably the best defensive effort I've seen in two years in the second half.
"A fantastic job by DeTamble and Ross did her usual thing. (Eight) points the whole half? That's good."
DeTamble, who scored 5 points and had 4 important steals, was excited for the opportunity presented to her Monday night.
"I just knew I had to step it up," she said. "My teammates kept giving me encouragement and I knew I could do it. We just came out with more intensity (in the second half) and we knew we had to do it."
The first half was not one the Rockets would like to duplicate. They committed 6 turnovers, made just 2 of 6 shots and fell behind 10-4 after one quarter, but quickly righted the ship and got back into the game midway through the second, only to fall behind at halftime when Sycamore (21-8) went on a 5-0 run to end the half.
"Put that blame on me," said Smith of the slow start. "We were late getting here and we were out of sync in the first half. That's on me."
The Rockets' defense to start the third quarter was nothing short of smothering. Sophomore Sam Pryor, held scoreless in the first half, took feeds off steals to score the first 5 points of the third quarter, DeTamble scored off her own steal and Ross nailed a 3-pointer from the corner after another DeTamble steal and just 90 seconds into the quarter the Rockets had a 28-20 lead.
They never let up, either, holding Sycamore to 1 point in the third quarter. The Spartans, who made just 3 of 19 shots in ther second half and 12 of 37 for the game, didn't make a second-half field goal until Taiya Hopkins hit a layup with 2:15 left in the game. By that time it was 38-21 and both coaches were starting to empty their benches.
"We regrouped at halftime," Smith said. "It's a big rivalry game for (Sycamore) and they're well-coached. We were in such a hurry. We just needed to slow down. That's two great second halves in a row. Hopefully we can put 32 minutes together like that (Thursday). But I can't say enough about the defense in the second half."
Neither could Sycamore coach Brett Goff.
"They're good at it very good at it," he said of the Rockets' defense. "We told the girls at halftime it was coming. We just made too many mistakes."
Pryor led the Rockets, who finished shooting 15 of 33, with 13 points, while junior Alison Colby added 9 points and another monster game on the boards with 12 rebounds as Central owned the glass, 29-17.
"We were frazzled," said Colby of the first half. "We wanted to go too fast and it caught up with us. The second half we came out in our press and our quickness worked again. That's one of our best qualities, coming out like we do in the third quarter. We're just vicious after the half and I don't think teams are prepared for that."
Junior Bailey Gilbert led Sycamore with 8 points.