AURORA – The Burlington Central girls basketball team encountered a rare halftime deficit, and the chief culprit was obvious: St. Edward guard Katie Swanson went off in the opening half, making four 3-pointers and accounting for more than two-thirds of her team's scoring.
Central, a proud defensive team, was steamed, especially guard Kayla Ross.
"She was one of the most upset kids at halftime," Rockets coach Mark Smith said. "She felt like she let the team down. Just said 'Hey, we've got to shut this kid down.' … I don't have to say much to Ross. I could see the look in her eyes was like 'I don't like this, and I don't want this to happen again.' She's a fierce competitor. She's really a tough defender."
Ross channeled her frustration into excellent second-half defense on Swanson, and the Green Wave didn't have enough other answers as Central won Saturday's IHSA Class 3A Aurora Central Catholic Regional title game, 43-35.
Top-seeded Central (24-4) advances to Monday's Belvidere Sectional semifinal against Sycamore.
Swanson's picturesque, high-arcing shot dropped on all four of her 3-point tries in the opening half, and she had 16 points at halftime as St. Ed led, 23-19. Swanson scored only three more in the second half, all on free throws, as St. Ed (19-9) struggled mightily on offense in crunch time.
"I had to get through the screens," Ross said. "I played good defense on her and got around, and she couldn't get many shots up."
BC led, 31-30, entering the fourth quarter, and after Rockets forward Samantha Pryor made a 3-pointer to open the fourth quarter scoring, the Rockets leaned on their vaunted defense to methodically grind out the win.
"I was very proud of our girls and how we handled their full-court pressure because that's usually what gets to teams that they play," St. Ed coach Michelle Dawson said. "But yeah, they're constantly coming at you, and they're so athletic, and their quickness is another one of their strengths. It doesn't matter who they've got on the floor, they just keep coming at you."
St. Ed closed within 35-33 on a 3-pointer by Green Wave guard Madelyn Spagnola, but consecutive layups by Rockets guard Samantha Cruz gave Central a six-point cushion with 2:32 to play in the game. The second of the Cruz layups was a nifty reverse with a somewhat high degree of difficulty.
"You always run a fine line between how much are we going to hold the ball and how much are we going to attack the basket [with a late lead]" Smith said. "Well, first of all, they can't hear me, but I just have to stand back and let them do their thing. They're just very gifted basketball players."
Pryor had 19 points and 10 rebounds for the Rockets while fellow forward Alison Colby added 10 points and nine rebounds.
Several of the players on Central and St. Ed are well acquainted, and Pryor shared an emotional, postgame hug with Spagnola.
The Rockets are regional champions for the second straight season, with most of their firepower back from the team that lost to Vernon Hills in a 3A supersectional in 2013.
"That was such a hard loss last year," Pryor said. "That's all I want, is to be able to go back and redeem that. I think our whole team does."