Lake Park tops Dundee-Crown to punch 1st state ticket
Lake Park coach Brian Rupp called his team a likable group, one that's fun to root for.
Thanks to the continued brilliant play from DePaul-bound senior Darrione Rogers and clutch shooting by sophomore Sara Balli and freshman Eleanor Helm, the Lancers gave their fans two more games to cheer.
They will be doing it for the first time at Redbird Arena in Normal, where Lake Park advanced to with a hard-fought 60-49 win over Dundee-Crown Monday night in front of a loud, jam-packed gym at the Class 4A South Elgin supersectional.
"The year we've had, our school, it has been a rough year for us," Rupp said. "We've had the community basically saying how much joy girls and boys basketball has given them at a really dark time for us. We've been driven by that moment."
The Lancers (26-8) will play Fremd, who knocked out defending state champion Maine West 57-49, in the state semifinals at 5:30 p.m. Friday.
It's Lake Park's first trip to state.
"It's unbelievable," Rogers said. "I can't even put it into words. Making history."
Dundee-Crown (29-7) ends the season with a school record for wins and conference and sectional championships.
The Chargers trailed nearly the entire game but used a furious 14-2 rally from the late third quarter to early fourth to take a brief 42-40 lead.
"I thought we proved we could play with them," Chargers coach Sarah Miller said.
Balli helped the Lancers get off to a quick start, sinking a 3-pointer 15 seconds into the game.
"I practice that shot all the time," Balli said.
Rogers scored the final 5 points of the first quarter for the Lancers for a 14-9 lead, and she drove for three baskets in the second quarter to make it 27-22 at halftime.
Dundee-Crown trailed 39-30 late in the third quarter before Cassidy Randl and Alaina Azar hit consecutive 3-pointers, then Alyssa Crenshaw scored on a putback to close within 39-38 heading to the fourth quarter.
Crenshaw provided a spark defensively during that run by switching onto Rogers and knocking the ball away twice. The Chargers also double-teamed Rogers often, yet she still finished with a game-high 26 points plus 11 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals and 2 blocked shots.
"You have to pick your poison," Miller said. "We started to get her turned over. Overall I felt the defensive effort was outstanding."
Crenshaw, who also saw extra defensive attention all night, drove through a crowd to score and tie the game at 40. Makayla Gotter's putback gave Dundee-Crown what turned out to be its only lead of the game with 6:55 remaining.
Helm immediately responded with a 3-pointer from the wing to put the Lancers back up, 43-42.
"I was wide open," Helm said. "I just decided to take it. We played hard and this is what we've been working for this whole time."
Balli followed with a rebound bucket, Rogers sank a 3-pointer, and she assisted Brayana Walker inside for a 50-42 lead with 4:46 to go.
Three free throws from Gotter and Skibinski pulled the Chargers within 50-45 before Gabrielle Burgess's layup started a 10-4 game-ending Lake Park run that included 5-of-6 free throws by Rogers.
"They (D-C) fight, they are a great team, we have to give it to them," said Balli, who finished with 14 points and 7 rebounds. "They don't put their heads down, they fight back. We just had to keep our heads down and fight back with them."
Emma Thorne added 7 points and Helm 6 for the Lancers who won despite being outrebounded 42-30. They took good care of the ball against the Chargers' pressure with only 8 turnovers, and had a slightly better shooting night, 21 for 55 with seven 3s (38.1%) to the Chargers' 36.2% and just three 3s.
"We knew they were going to play hard, we knew they were going to play chippy," Rupp said. "We knew they were going to make everything difficult for us. The moment wasn't too big for our young girls."
Crenshaw paced Dundee-Crown with 16 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals while seniors Skibinski, Payton Schmidt and Randl all added 8 points, and Gotter and Skibinski both hustled for 8 rebounds.
"We tried our best and left it all out there," Crenshaw said. "I'm just really proud of our team and how far we've come. We worked our way up every single day."
"This is the group I felt left a legacy," Miller said. "Hours of blood, sweat and tears in the gym."