Lake Park has the right plan against York
Senior Darrione Rogers and her Lake Park girls basketball teammates were intent on big changes in their rematch with York in the Class 4A Hoffman Estates sectional semifinals Monday.
Coach Brian Rupp got the Lancers started.
For a team philosophy predicated on great defense, Rupp employed a 2-3 zone for the first time this season.
"He's a smart guy, especially in the playoffs, so I knew he had a good game plan coming in," Rogers said. "That was the first time we played a 2-3 all year, but we were able to come together and execute."
Thanks to tough defense and some big plays down the stretch, the Lancers earned the chance for only the second sectional title in program history by defeating the Dukes 46-43.
No. 3-seeded Lake Park (24-8) will play top-seeded Geneva (25-6) for the sectional title at 7 p.m. Thursday. They split their regular-season meetings in sharing the DuKane Conference title, with the road teams prevailing each time.
Rogers collected 21 points with 16 in the first half to aid a 27-19 lead and added 10 rebounds and 4 steals. Freshman Gabi Burgess had 10 points and sophomore Sara Balli 8 with junior Emma Thorne getting 8 rebounds.
On Jan. 24 Rogers was limited to 12 points when the Lancers lost 57-34 at York, their largest margin of defeat this season, but she said her offense wasn't the biggest difference Monday.
"Defense. We packed the paint in on them and we were able to locate shooters," Rogers said. "There were a few possessions their shooters were able to knock down the shots, but overall I think defensively we grew and we played really well."
"It was a lot of fun," Rupp said. "It came down to executing our defensive game plan, I think. We made a lot of adjustments on defense. That was the only thing we focused on this week at practice. Our girls responded in a big way. Doing something they've never done before, they did a great job."
Lake Park opened a 32-19 lead three minutes into the third quarter, but No. 2 seed York (26-8) closed to 37-32 by the end of the period and closed to 44-43 on senior Sara Krissinger's 3 with 36.1 seconds.
The Lancers maintained possession before sophomore Sara Balli was fouled and hit two free throws with 9.4 seconds.
"They're free throws. When I go to the line I just think, 'Free points.' And I knew if I made them, it would seal the game for us basically," said Balli, promoted to varsity for last year's playoff run that reached the sectional semifinals. "We've been dreaming of this. We've been planning this. We've wanted this the whole season and this win is just huge."
Senior reserve Carley Schwartz had 15 points on five 3s for the Dukes. Junior Amaya Rufus had 10 and senior Sara Krissinger and junior Sydney Molis 8 apiece. Junior Kaitlyn Kjome and Krissinger had 12 and 8 rebounds, respectively.
The Dukes led 11-9 in 3s, but that meant they had just four baskets inside the arc. They also made 2 of just 4 first-half free throws. Lake Park was 13 for 19.
"We didn't hit any shots around the basket. We had some good looks and we hit more 3s than we have all year. That was the difference," Collings said. "We got down 13 and we fought back."
Collings wasn't surprised by the Lancers' 2-3 zone defense.
"To be honest, I called it because the past few teams have sunk down on us," Collings said.
The Dukes achieved a long list of accomplishments that hopefully can start a rejuvenation of the program. That includes winning at least 25 games, their first outright West Suburban Silver title since 1994 and their first regional since 2009.
"We had a list of goals at the beginning of the season we've hit one by one. Especially at the end of the season, it's been amazing," said Krissinger, a two-year captain. "I knew after last season we'd come into this season ready to play. We were so much better. These are tears of pride. I'm really proud of what we've done."