Burlington Central travels to Boylan, comes back with regional plaque
Burlington Central's Lauren Knief did not attempt a shot through almost three full quarters in Friday's Class 3A Boylan regional final against host Boylan but came up with the biggest shot in one of the game's biggest moments.
With 6-foot-2 forward and Princeton commit Taylor Charles and starting senior Rylie DuVal both on the bench with four fouls in the third quarter, Knief made her one and only shot against Boylan really count.
After Boylan cut Burlington's lead to two points on the strength of 20-of-24 shooting from the free-throw over three quarters, Knief took an inbounds pass from teammate Becca Carani, took one dribble and two steps to the basket.
Knief was fouled and finished off a three-point play while the Rockets celebrated wildly on the court and their bench erupted in loud cheers. Burlington went on to score 12 straight points and ran away from the Titans in the fourth to pick up a 57-37 win and earn its second consecutive regional title.
The Rockets (23-9) advance to face Montini in a Kaneland sectional semifinal at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Knief's key three-point play with about eight seconds left in the third quarter came after Boylan cut Burlington's lead from 35-27 to 35-33. The Rockets held Boylan to two points in the fourth quarter.
Knief, a senior guard, said nerves were working against her early on.
"When I first went into that game I was super nervous and I was rushing everything," she said. "When I came out and went back in, I was like, 'When I get the opportunity, I need to take it.' I did and it worked out. It made our energy expand times 100. When we get those big shots, our bench just goes insane. When our energy lifts, we're good from there."
Carani scored a game-high 17 points, including seven in the fourth quarter. Page Erickson, who had two 3-pointers, also came up big down the stretch with 10 of her 13 points in the second half. Charles ended with 13 points and 10 rebounds, with nine points and eight rebounds in the first half.
It was a complete team effort for the Rockets, with eight players scoring in the win.
"Those are our two most efficient offensive players all year," Kalamatas said of Charles and DuVal. "They don't turn the ball over a ton, they have the highest shooting percentage on the team, and I was thinking, 'Let's just keep this thing where it's at,' and maybe press it with Taylor and Rylie in the fourth.
"But we were able to extend that [lead]. We did a great job of adjusting from the first half to the second half with more space. We were able to get more back cuts and drives to the basket. Emma Payton came off the bench and made some great plays, Paige Greenhagel was incredible defensively. It took everybody to step on the court tonight to get it done."
Kalamatas thought Carani did a good job of taking control with both Charles and DuVal on the bench.
Carani gave all credit to her teammates.
"I trust every single girl on this team. The team stepped up and helped me," Carani said. "I don't think it was anything I did personally. It was everybody stepping up. I trust everybody with that ball, and I knew whoever was going to shoot the next 3, it's going to go in, or whoever is going to take the next drive, it was going to go in."
Boylan (21-9) was led by sophomore forward Lily Esparza with 19 points. She was a nuisance inside and hit 11 of 12 shots from the free-throw line. Kaylee Wald was next in scoring on the Titans with nine points, all in the third quarter.
Boylan coach Paul Perrone didn't think anything would come easy after Charles and DuVal were out of the game.
"We knew they had a cast of characters because no team is as good as Burlington with only two players," he said. "It takes a team effort. We knew we had a battle but fell apart. ... It's hard to put a finger on what caused it. Part of it was our breakdown offensively, part was their defense."
Next up for the Rockers is another difficult matchup against 25-8 Montini.
"I'm excited. I think it's going to be a great game," Carani said. "Montini is an amazing team. They have a lot of great players. It's going to give us a good challenge, and I just hope that we can come out of there with a win."