Huntley cruises to regional championship
Huntley's Jessie Ozzauto left Thursday's Class 4A Jefferson regional final with just more than five minutes remaining after twisting her ankle in the lane and smacking the ground.
The Red Raiders junior, like she did for most of the night, still made the shot in heavy traffic and eventually walked off under her own power.
Ozzauto watched the rest of the game from the bench, but her game-high 20 points and the Red Raiders' defense already was more than enough. Huntley beat Guilford, 50-36, to capture the team's 11th regional championship in program history and second in a row.
The Red Raiders (23-6) move on to play Barrington, a 62-26 winner against McHenry on Thursday, in the DeKalb sectional at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday. Huntley will carry an 11-game winning streak into next week's sectional semifinals.
The physicality of Thursday's regional championship started to pick up in the second half.
"This group, we just really work well together and we gave it our all," said Ozzauto, who added four steals and made two 3s. "It was tough, but we all as a team tried not to let it get in our heads because that would affect the way we play, so just play through it. If calls aren't going your way, you can't control it. You've just got to play through it."
"We knew this was going to be tough, so to come out with a win is unbelievable."
All of the Raiders' scoring Thursday came from their starting five. Senior forward Jori Heard (11 rebounds) and junior Sammi Campanelli scored nine points apiece, junior Morgan McCaughn added eight points, and freshman Anna Campanelli had four.
Huntley led from start to finish with a 16-6 lead after the first quarter and 23-13 lead going into the break. The Raiders led by as many as 17, at 34-17, after Ozzauto sank her second 3 with 1:35 remaining in the third quarter.
Ozzauto's bucket with 5:04 left in the fourth gave Huntley a 45-31 lead, but Guilford's Kiara Brandon made a 3 immediately after Ozzauto's injury to cut the lead to 45-34. Heard answered for the Raiders with a field goal and, after a basket from Guilford's Lindsey Knuth made the score 47-36, Sammi Campanelli hit a 3 on right wing for the game's final points with 3:50 left.
Huntley held Guilford scoreless for the final 4:05 of the game with another stifling defensive performance. Sammi Campanelli and McCaughn took turns defending junior Sydney Donaldson, one of the Vikings' top scorers and biggest 3-point threats, and held her to only six points -- all in the fourth quarter.
Huntley coach Steve Raethz felt his team's interior defense and toughness shined throughout Thursday's win. The Raiders held a 18-7 advantage in rebounds in the first half.
"I thought the first half we really imposed our will defensively," Raethz said. "That's a good basketball team. They've got some really good offensive players, perimeter and the post, and I thought our players just did a great job of setting the tone early.
"I'm just excited for our players and the opportunity to play next week. We talked about wanting more time together and winning this regional afforded us that. They're a great group to be around, and I could not be more happier for them."
Guilford (20-9), which set the team record for wins in a season, was led offensively by Avery Green with seven points. Marya Otero (two 3s), Lindsey Knuth, Jhanel Coleman and Donaldson each had six points, and Kiara Brandon added five.
The Raiders, who earned their first Fox Valley Conference championship since 2017, are hungry for more. Huntley last won a sectional title in 2016.
"We've all been working so hard for this. Winning the conference championship, we just wanted more," McCaughn said. "Being able to pull this out, it felt really good. We battled all four quarters. It just feels good."