BELVIDERE – Burlington Central girls basketball coach Mark Smith took full responsibility for his team’s subpar start.
The 6 p.m. tipoff time threw the Rockets’ normal pregame schedule out of whack, and Central found itself trailing Sycamore by two at halftime of the IHSA Class 3A Belvidere Sectional semifinal Monday.
But a 90-second stretch to start the third quarter saw Central force five consecutive turnovers that sparked a 10-0 run, and the Rockets went on to win, 42-28.
Central will play Rockford Lutheran on Thursday for the sectional championship.
“Probably one of the best defensive efforts I’ve seen in two years in the second half,” Smith said. “Just a great group defense, steals to get the momentum in the third quarter.”
Sycamore (21-8) jumped on Central right out of the gate, scoring the first six points, all coming on layups inside.
The Rockets (25-4) rallied to take a three-point lead in the second quarter as Rebecca Gerke scored five straight, but Sycamore’s Baylee Foresman knocked down a jumper at the buzzer to put the Spartans up two.
“We played [Central] earlier in the year so we saw some film things on film, a couple games lately, that we thought we could take advantage of,” Sycamore coach Brett Goff said. “Mainly, Bailey Gilbert setting screens for other people because they’re not going to help off of her. We were able to knock down those shots and get some easy looks.”
Central’s press turned the tide in the second half. Samantha Pryor was the beneficiary of consecutive Rocket steals with five straight points to start the third quarter. After another steal and layup by Aly DeTamble, Kayla Ross knocked down a 3-pointer to put Central up by eight.
The Rockets held Sycamore to only one point in the third quarter and the Spartans’ first field goal of the second half came with 2:13 remaining in the game.
Pryor led the Rockets with 13 points, all of which came in the second half. Alison Colby added nine and Ross finished with seven.
Central will now look to win its second consecutive sectional championship Thursday.
“We regrouped at halftime and said the same thing we said before,” Smith said. “We were just in such a hurry on offense. When we slow down and survey the situation, we’re much better off. We played with much more poise in the second half.”