SYCAMORE – The Sycamore girls basketball team has a lot to play for in the coming weeks.
With wins over Morris and Kaneland on Thursday and Friday, the Spartans will clinch a share of the Northern Illinois Big 12 East title. After that, Sycamore hopes to take home a regional crown as the top seed at the Class 3A Plano Regional.
Sycamore's 37-35 win Saturday over a strong Ottawa team, which came into the game with just two losses and had won 18 straight games, was a good appetizer of what's to come for the Spartans.
"I think we're playing really well. The Convo game (a loss to Dekalb) was kind of a blow to us. Coach was worried about how we were going to bounce back," Sycamore sophomore guard Taiya Hopkins said. "I think we've definitely bounced back and we're playing really well."
The Spartans improved to 16-6 with the win. Ottawa (19-3) led 14-11 at halftime, but the Spartans came out on fire in the third quarter, with junior guard Bailey Gilbert scoring 10 of her 18 points, and Sycamore led 29-21 after the third.
The Pirates, who have clinched the NI Big 12 West and are the top seed at the Class 4A Rock Island Regional, hit two free throws in the final five seconds to get to within two, but Sycamore was able to run the clock out on the ensuing possession before Ottawa could foul.
"We told them at halftime, we're not in panic mode. Defensively I thought we were very good in the first half. I thought we took good shots in the first half, they didn't fall down," Sycamore coach Brett Goff said. "I told them to relax, keep shooting the shots that we're taking, and sooner or later they'll fall.
"They did, and luckily we got things turned around a little bit."
Hopkins added 10 points for the Spartans. Lauren Goff had four.
"[Gilbert's scoring] makes things a lot easier. Harder for her, she kind of gets the tail end of it," Hopkins said. "It makes it a lot easier for us to get open because they're always double-teaming, triple-teaming her. So it's helping us get open."
Sycamore's win snapped the Pirates' 18-game winning streak. Goff thought the victory would be a good confidence-booster for his team.
"We like playing the likes of Ottawa and being able to beat them. It's a nice feather in our cap," he said. "We're concentrating on the conference and the postseason, today was a nice experience for us, because we don't see anyone like Ottawa for quite a while."