BELVIDERE – One exasperating sequence during the third quarter saw Burlington Central girls basketball guard Shelby Holt take three cracks at finishing near the basket but come up empty each time.
Clearly, Holt needed to step 15 to 20 feet farther back.
The sophomore’s 3-point shooting in the middle quarters helped the Rockets gradually separate themselves from Rockford Lutheran in Thursday’s 55-41 Central triumph at the IHSA Class 3A Belvidere Sectional championship game.
“I can hit a 3 but I can’t hit a layup,” said Holt, who made four 3-pointers on the night and scored a team-high 18 points. “It’s the joke on the team, but it’ll come.”
The Rockets (26-4) claimed their second straight sectional title under coach Mark Smith and advance to Monday’s IHSA Class 3A Hoffman Estates Supersectional against Carmel, which upended the Rockets’ opponent in last season’s supersectional loss, Vernon Hills.
While the Rockets never delivered a prototypical knockout blow, they built an eight-point halftime lead and kept the Crusaders (19-11) from mounting a serious threat behind their typically stout defense.
Rockets forward Alison Colby scored 15 points and had 11 rebounds before fouling out with her team ahead, 47-38, with 3:14 to play in the fourth quarter.
“I think she was offended that they wouldn’t guard her, so what are you going to do?” Smith said. “If you’re a basketball player, you’ve got to take the ball to the hole and score on that kid. They never adjusted.”
Central’s mission at halftime was obvious – slow down Rockford Lutheran guard Ashley Kerestes, who scored 17 of her team’s 21 first-half points on 7-of-8 shooting from the floor. Still, Central led 29-21 at the break after a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Holt.
“I think she’s a freshman so it was like a pride thing for us,” Holt said. “She just had the half of her life, so we’re not going to let that continue, and we didn’t.”
Kerestes finished with a game-high 20 points. Crusaders post player Abby Woolacott – who stands 6-foot-2 – had only two points at halftime before finishing with 10 points and 11 rebounds.
“I was, frankly, surprised they didn’t go in to [Woolacott] more,” Smith said. “I mean the article I read in the paper said we run our offense through [Woolacott], and I don’t know how many touches or baskets she had.”
Rockford Lutheran drew within six points three times in the third quarter but came no closer. Central led, 41-34, entering the fourth.
Rockets forward Samantha Pryor contributed 10 points and six rebounds, including making all six of her free throws in the fourth quarter.
With almost all of its firepower returning from last year’s upstart, underclassman-driven squad returning, Central entered the season fully expecting to play into March.
Those high standards made for a potentially pressure-packed night Thursday, but Central handled it with aplomb.
“It would have been very disappointing [not to win the sectional],” Colby said. “We had that thought going into the game, and we knew we had to get the win, and now we can’t wait to keep on going and win the supersectional.”