CRYSTAL LAKE – Crystal Lake South looked nothing like a No. 8 seed, and Kree Nunnally looked nothing like a freshman.
And because of that, Thursday’s Class 3A Prairie Ridge Regional championship game looked nothing like the game many expected.
Unfortunately for South, Grayslake Central's Kate Bullman looked every bit like the NCAA Division I recruit she is.
The Illinois State University commit scored a game-high 25 points and made a huge play late to help the top-seeded Rams fend off Crystal Lake South, 42-37.
The loss ended South's season at 16-17, but not before the Gators gave Grayslake Central, a 28-3 team on a 20-game winning streak, all it could handle.
“On paper, that shouldn’t have been as close of a game as it was,” South coach Mark Mucha said. “We challenged our kids to step up and make plays, and they did that. … I’m so proud of this group and how they conducted themselves. Obviously you want to be on the winning end and we want to get that regional plaque, but I’m proud of the effort.”
The Gators led only once – on a 3-pointer from Emily Rich for the first points of the game – but hit enough big shots to keep them afloat and earn a chance late.
Behind 16 first-half points from Bullman, Grayslake Central took its largest lead of the game at 25-16 into halftime. The main difference was the fact that after that game-opening 3-pointer, the Gators just couldn’t connect, missing their final nine from long range.
That changed at the outset of the second half. Allie Schoen hit two 3-pointers and Kyra Swartz made a third as South climbed to within 29-25 with 4:36 left in the third, Later, a strong interior feed to Gaby Trier for a layup made it 32-29 going into the fourth quarter.
“Especially for me being a senior, this is my last half of basketball ever,” said Schoen, who scored nine of her team-high 11 points in the second half. “I’m not playing in college, so we just wanted to put everything on the line. We wanted to prove a point … that we can take on No. 1 seeds like this team. We are better than people think we are, and I think we proved that tonight.”
The Gators kept to within one possession for almost the entire fourth quarter, mainly thanks Nunnally. She came up big all game long, scoring 10 points, including four big free throws in the final 8 minutes.
South even had a few opportunities to tie or take the lead. However, the Rams defense was stifling, particularly around the arc. The Gators didn’t have a field goal in the period until Schoen 3-pointer made it 39-37 with 28.7 seconds left.
That’s when Grayslake Central turned to its leader. After splitting two free throws, Bullman made a spectacular steal at mid-court and went in for the game-clinching layup. In addition to her 25 points, she had six rebounds and four blocked shots.
“We collected ourselves,” Rams coach Steve Ikenn said. “It’s a veteran group and they kind of willed themselves to this and said we just need to go out and stop them. I was proud of them. They pushed us to our limit. We bent, but we didn’t break.”
STAR OF THE GAME
Allie Schoen, Crystal Lake South, Sr., G
Schoen was 3-of-7 from the 3-point line and scored 11 points for the Gators.
7: Thursday’s game was the last for seven Crystal Lake South seniors that helped take the Gators from seven wins each of the last two years to 16 this year.
AND ANOTHER THING...
If you take away the strong 10-of-18 showing from Kate Bullman, Grayslake Central was just 6-for-24 against a strong Gators' defense.