NORMAL -- Burlington Central's girls basketball team had one of its toughest challenges of the season Saturday.
And Quincy Notre Dame made it even tougher.
The Raiders, who came into the Class 3A state finals having won three-straight state championships -- two in Class 2A and last year in 3A -- blitzed the Rockets with a pressure defense that helped create 19 first-half turnovers as they cruised to a 64-40 win in the Class 3A third place game at Redbird Arena.
"It's not the way we wanted to end it but we're elated. It's been a great run," said second-year Central coach Mark Smith, whose team finished the season 27-6 and brings home the school's first trophy, boys or girls, from an IHSA state final basketball tournament.
"It's been a fantastic season and I've really enjoyed it. They really did a great job overall."
What the Rockets ran into Saturday was defensive pressure as good as any they've seen all season. The Raiders (30-4) bolted to a 14-4 lead, had a 22-6 advantage after one quarter and never looked back.
"We all got a chip on our shoulder (Friday) night," said QND senior Kristen Genegenbacher, who had a game-high 22 points. "We wanted to come out and make a statement with this game and prove something and I think we did."
Notre Dame's pressure also limited Central to just 31 shots in the game, while the Rockets finished with a season-high 27 turnovers. It was only the third time this season Central has been held to 40 points or less in a game, and QND's 64 was a season-high allowed by BC.
"We've faced some pretty tough presses before and we're used to pressure but Quincy Notre Dame had some great traps," said Central sophomore Sam Pryor, who had a team-high 10 points.
"We got a little scared in the traps," said Rockets' sophomore Kayla Ross, who finished with 9 points. "We did a better job in the second half."
Despite trailing 42-21 at halftime, the Rockets, who lost for the second time in a row for the first time since the 2011-12 season, continued to fight during the final 16 minutes. After Notre Dame scored the first 5 points of the third quarter, Central put together a 7-0 run, it's best of the day, to bring the deficit under 20. But the hole had been dug and it was much to deep to climb out of. The Raiders regrouped and led 53-32 at the end of the third quarter. The closest the Rockets could come in the fourth was 20.
"It's just our girls working hard," said Notre Dame coach Eric Orne, whose teams have now gone 124-6 the past four seasons. "That's seven years of this press and we just want to make everything (the opponent) does difficult. Out girls have bought into our style and it works. We have an outstanding group of individuals and I'm the luckiest guy in Quincy."
Senior Mary Beth Hugenberg added 19 points for the Raiders, who shot 25 of 56 on the day and only turned the ball over 12 times. Gengenbacher, an all-stater who will play volleyball on scholarship at the University of San Diego, was 8 of 10 from the floor and 6-for-8 from the free-throw line to lead the way.
Sophomore Shelby Holt had 7 points for the Rockets, who were 14-for-31 shooting and won the rebound battle 32-26, led by 8 from junior Aly DeTamble.
Playing in their first state final tournament, the Rockets found coming back less than 24 hours after losing a tough semifinal loss to top-ranked Montini a tough challenge.
"It was tough to try to regroup today," said BC junior Alison Colby. "It's been a while since we've been down that much at halftime. We stuck together, though, and we finished as a team."
In the end, the Rockets accomplished their goal of making it to Redbird Arena.
"After last year's loss our goal was to make it to state and make history for our school," said Ross. "I'm really proud of my team."