GENOA – Use your legs. Follow through. Don’t get smothered.
Burlington Central freshman guard Shelby Holt heard those first two bits of advice from coaches and classmates this week. The third was simply instinctual.
While a handful of Rockets did take tumbles when their student section engulfed them Thursday, it was all in the name of bedlam. BC routed Sterling, 49-26, to win the 3A Genoa-Kingston Sectional and advance to within one victory of the girls basketball state tournament for the first time since 1984.
So long as they don’t get injured, the Rockets hope their same rowdy friends are on hand for Monday’s Hoffman Estates Supersectional against last year’s 3A runner-up Vernon Hills.
“You know, we walked up and our fans had the whole entire end bleachers and we had no one, and we were like, ‘Oooh, this isn’t good,’ “ Holt said. “But it worked out.”
Central’s unrelenting man-to-man defense forced 24 Golden Warriors turnovers. Until garbage time, it remained possible for Sterling (21-13) to finish with more turnovers than points.
Freshman guard Kayla Ross and backcourt mate Camille Delacruz – a senior who drives Ross home from practice – swiftly led the pressure as soon as the Rockets (27-4) shifted into their half-court defense.
For the record, Sterling traditionally runs the pick-and-roll to free up its outside shooters. Only passionate Golden Warriors fans would have known that Thursday, as BC limited its foes to just 11 field goal attempts before the break.
“Right from the start, we shut down their offense with Kayla and Camille and their quickness,” Central sophomore center Alison Colby said. “I mean, all the pass deflections from everyone on the team. It was a great effort all the way around. Our team played great.”
Per the pattern during their breakthrough season, the Rockets were as balanced as they were young. Ross (14 points) and Holt (11) finished in double figures, with classmates Rebecca Gerke (nine) and Sam Pryor close behind.
Weighing a barrage of outside input on her outside shooting, Holt made her first three 3s as the Rockets hit 5 of 13 attempts in the first half and built a 32-15 lead.
“I knew that this was a big game, and if I was going to put myself out there, now would be the time to do it,” Holt said. “Going into the first quarter, I just knew that it had to happen now.”
Sterling senior guard Stephanie Kester scored 24 points on 8 for 10 shooting in Monday’s narrow semifinal victory against Rockford Lutheran, including a school record-tying six 3s.
BC’s ball-pressure defense and the Golden Warriors’ turnovers limited Kester to one attempt from long range before the break. Sterling swished each of its five field goal attempts in the first quarter and went 6 for 11 in the first half overall, but Central’s pressure ultimately mounted.
“They started strong and took us out of what we were used to,” said Golden Warriors guard Raquel Romano. “We knew it was coming and just couldn’t catch up.”
Kiarra Harris and Alexis Strong scored seven points apiece for Sterling.
Central’s overflow, white-clad student section, which startled its Sterling counterparts when it bellowed “ROCKETS!” during that part of the national anthem, confidently chanted “I believe that we will win!” with 1:12 to go in the first quarter. BC led by 10 points at the time, and later went ahead by as many as 30.
“We came out big the first quarter, kept going along the way and came out big again,” Ross said. “And we won.”
Then promptly sidestepped the charging student section. If they were fast enough.