Hampshire wins 9th straight, reaches Marengo title game
Hampshire's Collin Woods stole a pass near midcourt, raced toward the Wauconda basket and threw down a thunderous dunk to bring the Whip-Purs' bench to its feet.
Woods provided the noise, but it was senior forward Nick Erickson who did most of the heavy lifting early for the Whips with 14 points, seven rebounds and a block by the end of the first quarter.
Behind Erickson's big start and stifling defense by Hampshire, the Whips ran away with a 58-29 win over Wauconda and earned a spot in the E.C. Nichols Holiday Tournament championship.
Hampshire (9-3), which has won nine straight games since an 0-3 start, will play for the tournament title at 7:30 p.m. Saturday against Marengo, winners of 11 straight. Marengo beat Rockford Christian, 54-47, in the second semifinal.
Hampshire lost in the E.C. Nichols championship to Crystal Lake Central last year and has not won the tournament since 1968.
"This is big for us. There's some bad blood because we lost in the championship last year," said Erickson, who finished with a game-high 21 points on 8-of-10 shooting, 13 rebounds and three blocks. "We came out and made a statement. We were ready to go."
Wauconda (8-3) led, 8-4, on a 3-pointer by Donovan Carter with 5:16 left in the first quarter. Wauconda would not make another basket until 6:36 remaining in the third. A 15-0 run by the Whips in the first quarter gave them 19-8 lead.
Hampshire led, 21-10, after the first quarter and held the Bulldogs scoreless in the second quarter, taking a 38-10 lead into halftime.
"We really wanted to focus on our defense today, and I feel like the whole team bought in," said senior guard Jackson Milison, who chipped in seven points. "That defense just led to our offense. From there, we just took off."
Woods finished with 12 points, and Jeremy Rosa Jr. tossed in nine for the Whips. Wauconda was led by Nick Bulgarelli and Donovan Carter with eight points apiece. Garrison Carter had six points.
Erickson credited his teammates for finding him early and often. He thought his teammates' energy was what helped the lead grow.
The fourth quarter started with a running clock as Hampshire built a 54-22 lead going into last eight minutes.
"Honestly, my teammates were just giving me good looks," Erickson said. "We were playing together, and I was just hitting my shots. That's all it came down to. If we keep improving, we're going to be a hard team to stop.
"Our energy is what controls that."
Hampshire will look for another quick start in the final against the Indians, who have not lost since their first game Nov. 25.
"We felt like we should have won [the E.C. Nichols title last year]," Milison said. "When we play team defense like we did today and we all share the ball, we're a pretty good team. We're pretty dangerous."