BELVIDERE – Sycamore looked poised to take yet another step in its progressive rise into one of the best girls basketball teams in the area.
The Spartans were playing calm and in control, shooting almost 50 percent from the field and leading Burlington Central by two at halftime of their Class 3A Belvidere Sectional semifinal.
But a 90-second stretch to start the third quarter was the Spartans’ undoing. Burlington forced five consecutive turnovers that sparked a 10-0 run, and the Rockets went on to win, 42-28.
“One turnover, two turnovers, the next thing you know we’re playing hesitant, we’re afraid to make a mistake instead of attacking,” Sycamore coach Brett Goff said. “Give credit to them, they did a nice job of mixing it up a little bit and putting more pressure on us.”
Sycamore (21-8) jumped on Burlington 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 midway through the second quarter, but a 3-pointer from Lauren Goff, who was cleared to play hours before Monday’s game after suffering a concussion a couple weeks earlier, and a Baylee Foresman jumper at the buzzer put the Spartans up two.
“It started with our boxing out at the other end,” Sycamore senior Julia Moll said. “For the most part, we were boxing out, getting it down the floor, holding them to one shot and then when you do things like that, when you’re confident on defense, things happen on the offensive end.”
Burlington’s press turned the tide in the second half. Samantha Pryor was the beneficiary of consecutive Rockets 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 Burlington 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 on a Taiya Hopkins layup.
Bailey Gilbert, the focus of Burlington’s defense all game, led Sycamore with eight points, five coming late in the fourth quarter. Foresman, Goff and Hopkins each had six in the loss.
Sycamore won its first regional championship since 2003 and drastically raised its season win total for the second straight year.
Although the Spartans are set to return four of their five regular starters next year, Sycamore’s senior class, which includes Moll and Foresman, played some of its best basketball late in the year.
“It’s incredible. I think it means everything,” Moll said of the team’s progress. “Me and the other three seniors, the hard work and dedication and the unity this team had was something really special.”