NORMAL – Call them champions. Again.
The Hinckley-Big Rock girls basketball team defeated Jacksonville Routt, 38-32, on Saturday at Illinois State's Redbird Arena to win the Class 1A state title game, giving the Royals back-to-back state championships.
"It's an amazing feeling," H-BR's Jenna Thorp said. "I thought it felt great last year. But it's just as great doing it twice in a row."
The Royals (33-2) and Routt (28-7) played a tight ballgame throughout that was won with three elements H-BR is used to – defensive intensity, rebounding and execution in the halfcourt. With almost no margin for error and the state title on the line, H-BR came through time and again on each critical possession.
"Obviously in a six-point game with the score in the 30s, every bucket seems like three buckets," H-BR coach Greg Burks said.
And when the Royals needed her most, Thorp came through. The H-BR forward scored eight of her team-leading 14 points in the third quarter by finding her way inside Routt's defense for first time all game.
"They fronted us a lot," said H-BR forward Tess Godhardt, who scored nine points and pulled down 15 rebounds. "They had pretty good defense on Jenna and me. Jenna got a lot more open than I did a lot of times, so it was hard getting the ball in."
Thorp's baskets allowed the Royals to keep a slim lead on the Rockets for the rest of the third.
"We wanted to work it inside more," Thorp said. "I knew I had to hit some shots inside and post them up, maybe get them in foul trouble."
The Rockets took a quick one-point lead on a three-pointer by Kelly Lonergan, but Maxzine Rossler answered back with a three of her own to make it 29-27, and the Royals never trailed again on their way to another state title.
"We were up five with under a minute left and we were feeling real good about that because two possessions, you're thinking that might take a week to score that much," Burks said.
It was a defensive performance that has come to define these Royals, who over the past two years fell back on their stout defense to get them through tough games. Over the final 4 minutes, 56 seconds of the game, H-BR allowed a total of three points.
On the biggest stage in the state, in two state title game appearances, the now back-to-back state champions have given up a combined 62 points.
"I thought, not to be boastful or anything, but we probably had the best defensive team in the state the past two years," Burks said. "That's why we came out on top."
With the win, H-BR caps off not only an incredible two-year run, but an equally impressive four-year record of 119-12. Seniors Jenna Thorp, Maxzine Rossler, Jes Meyer and Jessica Leifheit all played their final high school game Saturday. Thorp will move on to play for Northern Illinois in the fall.
A parade to celebrate the team is scheduled for Sunday, beginning at noon at the high school. The parade will go through Big Rock on Route 30 and then turn around and head back through Hinckley before a reception at the school at 2 p.m.