Grayslake Central hits win column again, advances to sectional final
Kate Bullman squared and rose up, and her first shot of the game from just past the foul line hit nothing but air.
Her eyebrows raised, slightly.
Division I-bound basketball players don't panic, even when they miss an open shot they normally drain easily.
"I was like, 'Oh, all right. That's cool. It's fine,' " Bullman said of her opening airball in Tuesday night's first of two semifinals in the Class 3A Crystal Lake South sectional. "As a shooter, you got to get that last one out of your head and just keep shooting. That's what I tried to do."
Grayslake Central's second shot was also an airball, but the Rams kept firing away and, more importantly, kept defending Deerfield hard. By game's end, Grayslake Central had hit the win column for the 21st game in a row, as the top-seeded Rams beat the fifth-seeded Warriors 58-32.
Bullman finished with 22 points and 15 rebounds, and Grayslake Central advanced to Thursday's 7 p.m. championship game against No. 7 St. Viator (14-16). The Rams (29-3) will be looking to win their first sectional title since 2011 as well as tie the school record for wins. The 2003-04 Rams won 30 games and went downstate.
"They're long," Deerfield coach Danielle Hoveydai said of the 2019-20 Rams. "The biggest things for us were to get back in transition -- because they look to push and they got some quick guards -- and rebound the basketball. We did a great job of that in the first half. In the second half, we got away from that."
Mallory Sawyer opened the scoring for Deerfield (21-13) with a 3-pointer, but Bullman responded with a 7-0 run, and Grayslake Central never trailed after that. Bullman's 3, which bounced on the rim before falling, capped the spurt.
The future Illinois State Redbird finished 9-of-26 shooting from the floor (3 airballs) and 3 of 5 from the free-throw line.
"I just wasn't hitting today," the 6-foot-2 Bullman said. "Everybody has those days, and mine just happened to be today. Which is completely fine. You could tell (Deerfield) definitely scouted all of us. They were out on me so other people were open. I was just getting them the ball, getting them the ball, and eventually we started hitting, and that's how we got our lead."
While Deerfield didn't help itself at the stripe, missing 10 of 12 free throws, Grayslake Central didn't fare much better (9 of 19 from the line). For the game, the Rams shot 22 of 60 (37 percent) from the floor.
"The key for us is the defense, always," said Grayslake Central coach Steve Ikenn, whose team held an opponent to fewer than 40 points for the 23rd time. "You're going to miss shots, and most of the time you're going to miss more shots than you make. So whether you miss by a lot or miss by a little, a miss is a miss. We were still playing really good defense. We were getting good looks. It was just a matter of time before the shots started to go."
Grayslake Central held the Warriors to 1 point in the second quarter to lengthen its lead to 21-8 at halftime. A 3 by freshman Lexi Kerstein got Deerfield within 25-16 midway through the third quarter, before the Rams answered with a 7-0 run.
Amanda Kocialkowski added 10 points and 5 steals for Grayslake Central, and Drevline scored 9 points on a trio of 3-pointers and grabbed 6 rebounds.
Kerstein and Demi Friedman each scored 8 points for Deerfield, and freshman Olivia Kerndt had 8 rebounds.
"Our defense was great in the first half, I thought," Hoveydai said. "In the second half, it flipped. The ball went in the basket a little bit more for us, but then we started trading baskets and didn't play great defense."