Burlington Central kept an ace up its sleeve for Johnsburg Tuesday night in the semifinals of the Class 3A Woodstock North sectional.
Playing the Skyhawks' sharpshooting guard Zach Toussaint, who averages 22.6 points a game and has scored 41 or more three times this year, the Rockets started with point guard Dejsani Beamon guarding him.
Beamon and Michael Kalusa took that assignment during two regular season meetings, and that worked for the Rockets with a pair of wins and a combined 27 points for Toussaint.
But in the first half Tuesday, Toussaint caught fire, scoring 17 points as the Skyhawks took a 39-37 lead over the top-seeded Rockets.
That's when the Rockets turned to their ace -- on this night 6-foot-4 junior Patrick Mayfield -- whose length helped smother Toussaint in the second half.
Toussaint only scored 6 points the rest of the way, and the Rockets blew open what had been a close game for a 77-56 win and their first spot ever in the Sweet 16.
"He (coach Brett Porto) wanted more length on him," Mayfield said. "I can stay farther off and still be there and block the shot. He's a great player."
Burlington Central (28-3) will play the winner of Wednesday's matchup between Rockford Boylan (20-10) and St. Francis (15-15) in the sectional final Friday night.
The Rockets have never won a sectional, previously losing in the finals in 2001 and 2003 -- the later a team current coach Porto was on.
"It's awesome to do this for the community and all our fans who have been coming to the games 10, 15 years that haven't been able to come out to a game like this," senior William Hough said. "Now to be going to a sectional final is awesome."
Mayfield made a big difference on both ends of the court, scoring 23 points. The school's all-time leading scorer Zach Schutta led the Rockets with 25 points and 10 rebounds.
In their previous two wins over the Skyhawks (19-13), Burlington Central led by just 2 and 4 points at halftime.
"All of our first halves with them have been up and down, almost like a boxing match," Porto said. "We thought maybe using Pat's length could affect his shot and for the most part it seemed to do that in the second half. Pat did a great job on Toussaint and our help was much better behind him. And I thought our quality of shot was much better on the second half."
Both teams came out shooting well. The Rockets took an early 14-7 lead with a 9-0 run that included Hough's steal and pass ahead to Beamon who hit Schutta for a layup.
Johnsburg fought back, hitting 7 shots from the 3-point arc in the first half and shooting 56 percent (14 for 25) from the field. In the second half, that dropped to 29.1 percent (7 for 24).
The Skyhawks took their biggest lead at 32-26 with three minutes left in the second quarter on a floater by Toussaint. Schutta picked up his third foul, but Porto left him in the game and was rewarded when Schutta nailed one of his five 3-pointers to quickly cut the deficit in half.
"I kind of believe in that," Porto said. "He's a four-year guy and we've built that rapport, he understands game situations. We had a shootout last year and he had four in the first half, I kept him in there and told him to learn how to play in foul trouble because there is a way to do it. We felt confident that he would be smart enough to get himself through the whole game."
Schutta didn't pick up another foul the rest of the night, and his back-to-back 3s early in the third quarter broke a 43-43 tie to put the Rockets ahead to stay, 49-43.
The lead kept swelling as the Rockets outscored the Skyhawks 35-11 from early in the third quarter until three minutes remained when Johnsburg coach Mike Toussaint emptied his bench.
"I don't know if it was our legs or our energy, but they are a good team," coach Toussaint said. "Every guy they brought on the floor is good. Our shots were short, we couldn't buy a bucket for awhile. They are better than us. That's what it comes down to. I thought we played well. Sometimes the cream rises to the crop. I can't fault our guys. We just ran out of gas."
While Johnsburg went cold after halftime, the Rockets made 16 of 26 shots to finish the night at 52.6 percent (30 for 57). They even put two exclamation points on the win, first a breakaway dunk by Schutta with 3:43 to go, then a 3-pointer from Michael Pearson in the closing seconds.
With Kalusa out after receiving two technical fouls in the regional final, Caden Scott stepped into the starting lineup and chipped in 6 points and 5 rebounds. Hough added 9 points while Beamon scored 5 with 6 assists and 3 steals.
"That (Kalusa) was a big disadvantage for us but we overcame it," Hough said. "We took care of business and now we get to let him play in the next game."