CRYSTAL LAKE – The Huntley girls basketball team has become known for its ability to put up points, but it was the Red Raiders’ defense that shined during Tuesday’s sectional semifinal against South Elgin.
A careless turnover leading to an easy basket right before halftime wasn’t the way the Red Raiders wanted to close what had been a solid first half. Despite the momentary lapse, Huntley’s defense came alive in the second half.
The Red Raiders held the Storm scoreless for a seven-minute stretch in third quarter and allowed only three second-half field goals. Huntley’s defensive effort led to a 49-32 win and put them in Thursday’s Class 4A Crystal Lake South sectional final.
The Red Raiders (27-3), which set a school record for wins in a season, play Rockford Boylan at 7 p.m. Thursday for the sectional title.
“We talked about coming out in the second half and hunkering down and playing better team defense,” Huntley coach Steve Raethz said. “I think that was about one of our best halves of defense [in the second half] this whole season.”
Huntley senior forward Sam Andrews provided much-needed scoring with sophomore Ali Andrews nursing foul trouble most of the second half. Sam Andrews scored a game-high 21 points with three 3-pointers.
“I definitely look to take charge and lead the team, just get energy going and getting us to play like we know we can play,” Sam Andrews said. “I felt like once we stretched the defense we could start looking inside and get open shots.”
With Ali Andrews (15 points) limited in the second half because of foul trouble, freshman forward Morgan Clausen came off the bench and provided big minutes for the Red Raiders. Clausen helped Huntley protect its fourth-quarter lead by going 4 for 6 at the free throw line to their advantage to double digits.
South Elgin (20-10) took a 22-18 lead in the first 30 seconds of the third quarter, but failed to score again until 25 seconds were left in the third. By then, Huntley had built a 10-point lead. Midway through the fourth it had swelled to 18 points, 44-26.
Sam and Ali Andrews combined to score all of Huntley’s first-half points, with nine points each. The game was tied at 18 with 1:22 remaining in the second quarter on a Sam Andrews layup. The Storm stole the momentum heading in the halftime, however, converting a careless turnover by the Red Raiders under their own basket into a layup and South Elgin two-point lead as time expired.
South Elgin had a chance to get back into the game during the second half but couldn’t capitalize on open looks, particularly on 3-pointers.
“We’re a team that likes to press, and we didn’t get as many turnovers as I would’ve liked to have,” Storm coach Tim Prendergast said. “The 3-pointer is a big shot, and that killed us.”
Rockford Boylan 64, Prairie Ridge 57: Every time Rockford Boylan began pulling away from Prairie Ridge, the Wolves found a way to stay in the game and not let the lead get out of hand.
Prairie Ridge’s defense couldn’t get the big stops, however, and a potent Titans offense picked apart the Wolves to advance to the sectional final. Boylan (26-4) made seven 3-pointers against Prairie Ridge’s zone defense.
“I’m proud of my kids because we got down and we didn’t quit,” Wolves coach Rob Baker said. “We still kept going. We just didn’t make as many shots as we usually do. We scored 57 and there were still shots to be made.”
The Wolves (21-9) led 13-10 late in the first quarter, but Boylan closed the quarter on a 10-0 run to take a seven-point lead that they wouldn’t relinquish. The Titans led by as many as 15 points with two minutes left in the third quarter. Senior guard Sarah Le Beau (team-high 16 points) made four 3-pointers, three of which came in the second half to keep the Wolves in the game.
Prairie Ridge pulled within seven points with two minutes left in the game, but the Titans made enough free throws to close out the win. Senior center Maddie Drain finished with 14 points while sophomore guard Aly Clark added 13 points for the Wolves.
“It means a lot because we know we left a mark on Prairie Ridge basketball,” Le Beau said of finishing the season strong. “People talk about Prairie Ridge differently now, in a good way.”