HAMPSHIRE – An old basketball cliche dictates that a team must make late free throws to win a close game.
That wasn't the case for the Sycamore girls Tuesday in a Class 3A Hampshire Sectional against Burlington Central, but the Spartans grabbed enough offensive rebounds to hold off a furious Rockets rally to win, 66-59.
A 15-point lead for the Spartans had been whittled down to 59-57 with 1:27 left. And while the Spartans (27-6) went only 4 of 8 down the stretch from the line, Kylie Feuerbach rebounded with two of them for putbacks to help secure the win.
"Earlier in the season, with my sprained ankle, it was tough for me rebounding," Feuerbach said. "Since it's back to 100%, I've really gotten into the rebounding mentality. Ever since it's been feeling good, I have that mindset to rebound because there's been so many times I get a rebound [where] the basket is right there."
Faith Feuerbach also had an offensive rebound off a missed free throw in the final minute for the Spartans. Sycamore coach Adam Wickness said offensive rebounding was a point of emphasis this week.
"That's something we stressed the whole time," Wickness said. "We knew there were a couple people on their team that didn't necessarily box out every single time, so we tried to take advantage of that well."
Burlington Central coach Collin Kalamatas said the rebounding lapses off free throws never had been an issue.
"I think it was just the moment," Kalamatas said. "Our girls showed a lot of heart to come back from down 15 or whatever it was. It's a really special group."
The Rockets (29-5) trailed, 27-24, at the half after Kathryn Schmitt hit a layup with 5 seconds left – she also hit a 3 at the buzzer at the end of the first as part of her 29-point night.
But the Spartans began draining 3-pointers – Faith Feuerbach hit two of her four on the night in a 50-second stretch, and Faith Klemm followed with one.
"Faith and Faith, they both came out and stepped up big time," Wickness said. "That's what playmakers do, and we have multiple playmakers on this team."
Klemm had scored the first eight for Sycamore in a regional final win against Dixon, nailing three 3s in that game. She finished with 10 points Tuesday.
"After somebody hits it, we all go high-five, and it just gets us ... hyped for defense," Klemm said. "And then to go get another 3."
Kalamatas said he saw the game against Dixon and the barrage of 3s but still wanted to focus on containing Kylie Feuerbach.
"We got a good look at that from their game against Dixon where they hit like 12 3s, but with that in mind we still wanted to focus on slowing down Kylie," Kalamatas said. "That's kinda the hill you got to die on and we didn't get out on some shooters."
The lead grew to 49-34 before the Rockets started chipping away.
"We had a lot of lapses defensively in that third quarter," Kalamatas said. "Give them credit – they're a really good 3-point shooting team. When you have a playmaker like Kylie that's as good as she is and can get to the basket, you have to pick your poison. We tried to focus on taking away Kylie's rim touches, and give them credit; they made shots from tough spots."
Wickness said he was pleased with the way the Spartans responded to the Rockets' late surge.
"A good team like Burlington is going to go on runs. You know that. They have too much talent not to go on runs," Wickness said. "We knew that if we could survive their little push back in the end and get the ball in the hands of our free throw shooters at the end. Which is what we did."
By the numbers: Faith Feuerbach finished with 13 points and Kylie Feuerbach 21. For Burlington Central, Schmitt scored 29, and Elana Wells added 21.
Beyond the stats: After five lead changes in the first quarter, Sycamore took the lead for good with 7:06 left in the second on a steal and layup from Kylie Feuerbach.
They said it: "We made it hard for her, but she's so good. She's so tough," Wickness said of Wells. "She's a little tank. She can get in there, and she can also hit the stepback. That's what makes her so hard to guard."
Up next: The Spartans will face Montini in the sectional final at 7 p.m. Thursday.