BURLINGTON – The Burlington Central girls basketball team finally can add another regional championship to the school’s gym wall.
The Rockets fended off a Plano second-half rally for a 38-34 win Friday in the IHSA Class 3A Burlington Central Regional title game for the program’s first regional crown in 23 years.
“I’m going to feel great, really accomplished,” the Rockets’ Alison Colby said about adding this year’s regional title to the banner. “I’ve been waiting for this a long time.”
The underclassmen-dominated Rockets will face Marian Central on Tuesday in the second semifinal of the 3A Genoa-Kingston Sectional.
A perfect 9 for 9 from the free-throw line and a strong fourth-quarter defense that gave up only two baskets preserved the Rockets’ win.
“A gritty grind it [game], especially the fourth quarter,” Rockets coach Mark Smith said. “A great effort by the girls all night long.”
Central (25-4) seemed to have the game well in hand at the half, leading the Reapers 29-17.
The Rockets’ offense was working the ball inside for baskets and limited Plano’s 6-foot-3 Clarisa Martinez to six points.
Colby was the main scorer early for Central, scoring 13 of her team-high 15 points in the first 16 minutes.
Plano (21-7) made adjustments on both offense and defense in the second half.
The Reapers’ defense shut down the Rockets’ inside game, forcing them to make outside shots that weren’t falling.
Central only managed two points in the third quarter, both on free throws.
Martinez, who led all scorers with 18 points, finally was getting the ball inside and sank three baskets in a row from underneath during the third quarter.
Her only 3-point shot on the night fell in to pull Plano within four, 31-27, with less than two minutes left in the frame.
Temirra Ellis followed with a trey from the right corner to make it a one-point game at the end of the third quarter.
Another Martinez bucket gave the Reapers a brief one-point lead, 32-31, a minute into the fourth quarter.
Two Samantha Pryor free throws returned the lead to the Rockets at the 6:26 mark of the fourth quarter.
A Shelby Holt (10 points) trey with five minutes left in the frame finally broke Central’s field goal drought and pushed its lead to four, 36-32.
“Throughout the whole game I was saying my shot will fall when it needs to,” Holt said. “When I let go of it, I could feel it and knew it came at a really good time.”
Both teams managed only two points in the last five minutes of the game.
Reapers coach Mario Serra thought his team ran out of gas in the fourth quarter.
“When you get down 12 points to a good team, it took all that effort to get back in the third and it takes a little bit out of you,” said Serra, whose team nipped Kaneland in a regional semifinal Wednesday.