Crystal Lake Central's defense stymies Grayslake North; Deerfield advances
Crystal Lake Central relied on the one constant factor that's helped the Tigers succeed throughout the whole season when they started the playoffs on Monday night.
The Tigers have a motto: You can take days off of offense, but they can never take off a day on defense.
Defense led Crystal Lake Central to a 19-12 record heading into its Class 3A Deerfield regional semifinal and the Tigers turned defense into a strong offensive output where the Tigers opened the playoffs with a 47-35 win against Grayslake North.
"That's what's going to bring us to offense," Crystal Lake Central's Katie Hamill said. "So that's why we always work on our defense, because that's going to bring us what we want to do on offense."
The Tigers set the tone defensively with their first defensive possession when they forced the Knights to commit a turnover. Crystal Lake Central used that defensive momentum to run out to a 12-4 lead at the first mask timeout, midway through the first quarter.
Crystal Lake Central led by a point after one quarter but that was the closest the game would get, with the Tigers never trailing in the game.
"When you can start the playoffs and set your own tone, that just allows the players to feel comfortable," Crystal Lake Central coach Derek Crabill said. "If they're comfortable, they're going to play better."
The Tigers were comfortable and had strong performances from numerous different players. Crystal Lake Central led 41-35 with over three minutes left in the game and went on a 6-0 run to finish off the wing, not allowing Grayslake North to score in the last three minutes.
Hamill led the way for the Tigers with 15 points while Paige Keller added 12 points. Taja Bryan scored 10 points off the bench.
Grayslake North committed 17 turnovers on Monday night. Crabill has made defense his team's identity all season and was proud to see how that defense helped his players turn in one of their best offensive performances of the season.
"Tonight was the first time we controlled the tempo offensively from start to finish," Crabill said. "The girls did a really good job of playing pressure defense and then transitioning into an aggressive manner."
Grayslake North's Peyton Gerdes finished the night with a double-double, leading all scorers with 24 points while also bringing in 12 rebounds. If the junior grabbed an offensive rebound, there was a strong chance that she was going to score, which created some defensive issues at times for the Tigers.
Knights coach Roger Lass was excited for what Gerdes can do for him next season, but was also proud of what his team accomplished this season.
"I couldn't be prouder," Lass said. "They played hard the whole game, really good defense. They started making shots and free throws and we didn't."
Monday's win marked the first time Crystal Lake Central won 20 games in a season since 1995. Crabill credited the success to how hard his players have worked this season, but he was also sure that they're more focused on the next game and not the history they made Monday night.
"It's great to get 20 wins, I think that means we're on the right track, we're developing a team that's nice and can compete from year-to-year," Crabill said. "It's great for the school, in terms of this team, it just shows how much effort they put in the last few years to build this program up."
The Tigers will compete for a regional championship on Thursday against Deerfield, the No. 2-ranked team in the Class 2A Grayslake Central Sectional. Crabill is excited for the potential defensive battle that could await the teams.
"I think we've got to make sure we handle they're pressure, and I think we can pressure," Crabill said. "It's going to be interesting to see who's pressure is a little bit better on Thursday night."
Deerfield 93, Crystal Lake South 40:
Deerfield flexed its strong defensive muscle on Monday as it opened the playoffs showing off how its defense can lead to an offensive outpour.
The Warriors forced Crystal Lake South to commit 33 turnovers and turned those turnovers into a 93-40 win.
"Regionals is always an interesting time because more likely than not it ends in a loss," Crystal Lake South coach Mark Mucha said. "I'm just proud of the kids, especially our seniors, for fighting. Deerfield is an incredible team."
Deerfield took full control of the game when it started on a 9-0 run. The Warriors out-scored the Gators 28-8 after one quarter, forcing Crystal Lake South to commit 12 turnovers.
Crystal Lake South struggled to gain any sort of momentum as Deerfield applied a full-court press and applied pressure to any Gators ball handler throughout the game.
Deerfield's Nikki Kerstein scored 24 points while Alexis Kerstein scored 22. Crystal Lake South's Kree Nunnally led the way with 25 points and brought in seven rebounds.
While Mucha was sad to see the season come to an end, he was proud of the way his players battled not only Monday night, but throughout the last couple of years.
"They fought," Mucha said. "They've been through a lot of adversity the last couple years with all the craziness. They never let those outside things bother them and they're a great group of kids to be around."