Another chapter was written on Friday night in the long and storied history of the old Elgin High School building on Gifford Street as the Elgin Maroons and Larkin Royals' girls basketball teams renewed their rivalry in the first meeting ever at the historic gym affectionately known as The Pit. The Gifford Street facility was home for the Maroons for 33 years up until the 1972-1973 season when Elgin High School was relocated to Maroon Drive and Chesbrough Field House.
The game certainly lived up to the billing as the Maroons, who led by as many as 11 points in the second half, held off a valiant Larkin comeback for a 45-43 win in opening round action of the Elgin City Classic. The building has proved to be good luck for the Maroons. They also won a year ago against Westminster Christian.
Dajha Cooper led Elgin with 16 points and 14 rebounds. Kylie Graves added 14 points.
"I love playing here with all the history and nostalgia that surrounds the place," Elgin coach Dr. Nick Bumbales said. "The girls really seem to get excited about playing here, too. They get caught up in the atmosphere and really appreciate what it means. I think we came out with a lot of energy."
The Maroons (2-17) led just 23-22 at the half, but went on a 10-2 run at the start of the third quarter to open a 33-24 lead. Cooper and Graves each had 3-point plays to start the run. Cooper scored 9 of her points in the third quarter. Graves later gave the Maroons their largest lead of the game when she hit a pair of free throws with early in the fourth quarter to make it 42-31.
"We had a lot of players step up," Bumbales said. "Coop did a great job controlling the boards and I thought Kylie did a heckuva a job putting the team on her back. Kamiya (Harvey) did a great job possessing the ball. On defense Mackenna Downing and Emily Graves really did a nice job limiting their scorers."
The Royals (2-14) rallied to within 45-43 with 26 seconds left to play, but the Maroons denied Larkin on 3 attempts down the stretch.
"That was nervous and really exciting at the same time," Cooper said. "I feel like our defense was definitely the difference. We work on that a lot in practice. We love playing here. I feel like the energy is a lot better."
Brianna Young had 13 points to lead the Royals in scoring. Alexia Saldivar added 10 points while Haley Bohne scored all 9 of her points in the fourth quarter and was a big part of the Royals' comeback.
"We've struggled offensively all year," Larkin coach Steve Knapp said. "We came out sluggish again tonight and it stayed that way until about the final four minutes. But it's hard to climb out of that big of a hole in that amount of time."