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BELVIDERE — No third-quarter blitz was needed this time.
Trailing at halftime in its previous two games, the Burlington Central girls basketball team was determined to play a complete 32 minutes Thursday night when the Rockets faced Rockford Lutheran for the Class 3A sectional championship here at Melvin Brown Gymnasium.
They did just that, controlling the game from start to finish in a 55-41 win.
“That was pretty good,” smiled BC coach Mark Smith of his team’s second-straight sectional championship and third in program history. “It was a great team effort.”
The Rockets (26-4) will return to Hoffman Estates Monday at 6 p.m. for a supersectional date with Carmel Catholic (24-8). Carmel beat Vernon Hills, the team that ousted the Rockets in last year’s super at Hoffman, 47-35 Thursday in the Ridgewood sectional final.
Sophomore Shelby Holt, who missed most of Monday’s semifinal win over Sycamore with illness, scored 18 points and hit 4 3-pointers to lead the Rockets Thursday. Junior Alison Colby, playing sick, added 15 points and had another monster game on the boards with 13 rebounds.
“Shelby’s approach to the game tonight was how you have to approach the game,” Smith said. “She hit some 3s and got her rhythm. And Alison’s not a senior but she sure played like a senior. I think they offended her by not guarding her. They never adjusted and she kept scoring. I love her confidence. What a game. Just incredible. They were daring her to score and she took the challenge and had a whale of a game.”
“They were staying five feet off me so I took advantage by driving and shooting,” said Colby, who was 6 of 13 shooting including a 3-pointer.
Holt was also 6 of 13 and hit 2 3s in the second quarter and 2 more in the third.
“We all knew what we had to do and I guess it was just my time tonight,” Holt said. “Everybody has to step up sometime and my time was tonight.”
Central never trailed in the game and after ties of 2-2 and 4-4, a 7-0 run fueled by a Kayla Ross steal and basket, a Colby 3-pointer and a basket from sophomore Sam Pryor left Lutheran (19-11) chasing the lead the rest of the night.
With Ross hounding Lutheran leading scorer, sophomore Baillee McGirk, all night, the Crusaders used 17 first-half points from Ashley Kerestes to hang around. The Rockets had a 26-18 lead after a Pryor basket with 18 seconds left in the first half. Kerestes hit a 3 with 7 seconds left to make it 26-21. Not to be outdone, Holt buried a 3 from the corner at the halftime buzzer to give BC a 29-21 lead at the break.
Lutheran never got closer than 6 in the second half as Kerestes, who was 7 of 8 shooting in the first half, was limited to four missed shots in the second half. She finished with a game-high 20 points. Lutheran as a team was just 6 of 22 in the second half and 15-for-45 for the game. Six-two sophomore Abby Woollacott added 10 points for the Crusaders but was held in check in the paint by Colby, Pryor and sophomore Becca Gerke.
The Rockets, who shot 19 of 48 and won the rebounding battle 35-22 (11-3 on the offensive glass), led 47-39 with 3:14 to play and then froze the ball, forcing Lutheran to foul the rest of the way. BC, with Pryor going 6-for-6, was 10 of 12 from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter to help seal the win. Pryor finished with 10 points and 6 rebounds.
“We got a little loose on (Kerestes) in the first half but Ross did a fantastic job on (McGirk),” Smith said.
In fact McGirk, who had scored over 20 points in the Crusaders’ last two games, had just one basket late in the fourth quarter when the outcome was no longer in question.
“I always have one job, to shut my girl down and play my normal defense,” said Ross, who had 5 assists and 3 steals to go with 6 points. “Coach said play a full 32 minutes and I think we did that tonight.”
The Rockets’ experience on the sectional final stage showed throughout the game. Lutheran, which like Central has just one senior, was in a sectional for the first time since 2010.
“Last year helped for sure,” Smith said. “They had the focus and the single-mindedness to get this done. Hopefully we’ll go in Monday with the same attitude. There’s still a bitter taste in their mouths from last year.”