Belvidere North rallies past Kaneland
The Belvidere North girls basketball team came back from a seven-point halftime deficit to knock off Kaneland 39-36 in the Class 3A Rochelle regional semifinal Tuesday.
After Belvidere North trailed for the majority of the game, a pair of free throws by Blue Thunder senior forward Crystal Sotelo gave her team the lead early in the fourth quarter. After trading baskets, a pullup jumper by junior guard Grace Hulstedt with 1:42 left put the Blue Thunder ahead for good.
Sotelo sealed the game for Belvidere North (18-10) with a pair of free throws, going a perfect six-for-six from the line. On top of a game-high 16 points, Sotelo was aggressive on the defensive boards in the fourth quarter to limit the Knights' second chance opportunities.
"We always preach stick together," Sotelo said. "We always stick together and move on to the next play, it's as simple as that ... Everybody one our team wanted the ball and wanted to get back on offense and score the bucket. We dug down deep and did everything we could to secure the board."
The Blue Thunder's previous two losses had each come by a point. The team also won two games this season by a margin of three or fewer. Belvidere North coach Aaron Leonard said those close games prepared them for their highest stakes nailbiter of the season.
"That's just who this group is," Leonard said. "No game is ever out of reach and no lead is ever safe either. We've learned that the hard way and have played in a ton of close games to prepare us for these games.
Kaneland struggled throughout the night with its jump shot, going the first minutes without a basket.
"We got a little stagnant on offense," Kaneland coach Kelsey Flanagan said. "Some of our shots and looks didn't fall. We forced a lot of shots inside that didn't fall that allowed them to get back into it. We just weren't sharing the ball the way we were in the first half."
Knights junior guard-forward Katharine Marshall ended the dry spell for Kaneland and helped tie the score at 8-8 to end the first quarter. Marshall led the Knights in scoring with 10 points.
The Knights took the lead in the second quarter with a three-pointer from junior guard Kailey Plank while senior guard Taylor Seaton scored six points with shots at the basket. A quiet offensive quarter for the Blue Thunder allowed Kaneland to surge ahead 21-14 at halftime.
The lead had grown to eight points when Leonard called timeout with 55 seconds left in the third quarter.
"The first half we just got beat off the dribble," Leonard said. "They really didn't make a jump shot all night ... most of what they had was dribble and drive. Being better on the help side, forcing them to make extra passes and shoot jump shots worked out to our favor in the second half."
The Blue Thunder implemented a full-court press that netted them a momentum shifting turnover and a basket by senior forward Grace Ulferts. Hulstedt added a three-pointer to make it 32-29 going into the fourth quarter.
After Sotelo's free throws early in the fourth gave Belvidere North the lead, the teams added a basket each before a Kaneland timeout with 1:59 left. Marshall scored a quick layup out of the timeout, but Hulstedt managed to get a one-on-one opportunity at the other end for the go-ahead midrange basket.
After the Blue Thunder ran clock and Sotelo made two free throws, the Knights missed a potential game-tying three from the corner to end the game.
Belvidere North advances to the Rochelle regional final on Thursday night at 7 p.m. against top-seeded Sycamore.