CRYSTAL LAKE – The Crystal Lake South girls basketball team carried a hunger to win onto the court Tuesday.
South stepped onto its home floor for the final time during the regular season with the expectation that the six seniors would be sent off with a win. While the Gators fell short of their goal of a conference title, their 54-44 win against Jacobs left them in third place, their best finish in the Fox Valley Conference Valley Division since 2009 when they finished atop the division.
“[The seniors] put in so much time and energy over the years,” South coach Kyle McCaughn said. “It’s not just this year, it’s over the four years of basketball. It’s the longest season, the toughest season an athlete’s going to play and for them to stick with it and not see all the playing time that other kids get to see is a testament to who they are.”
South led Jacobs by one midway through the second quarter, but a 9-2 run by the Gators in the final two minutes gave them an eight-point halftime lead. South quickly built its advantage to double digits within the first two minutes of the third. The Golden Eagles (2-21 overall, 2-10 FVC Valley) managed to cut South’s lead to 40-36 at the 7:17 mark of the fourth, but four consecutive turnovers thwarted their comeback.
“I think it gave us a lot of momentum and gave us some confidence going into the second half knowing that we needed to still continue to keep it up,” senior Kelly Ryan said. “Knowing that if the seniors can step it up, then everyone else out there can step it up too.”
The Gators (21-5, 9-3) were still without junior forward Sara Mickow (ankle), but the offense had little trouble finding other scoring options. Nine Gators scored at least three points, led by Kianna Clark’s 11 points.
“That shows a lot of talent within our team,” Clark said of South’s scoring balance. “ ... I just wanted to do the best I could and play the best I could for the seniors because this was senior night and it was really important to them.”
Clark’s active hands on defense created four steals, part of a South defense that flustered
Jacobs especially when using a full-court press. However, the Golden Eagles’ Payton Berg kept her team within striking distance. Berg knocked down three first-quarter 3-pointers and finished with a game-high 20 points. In the first half, Berg accounted for nearly 75 percent of Jacobs’ points.
Berg’s performance was especially impressive considering she almost didn’t play against South. Golden Eagles coach Joe Benoit said Berg was involved in a car accident Tuesday morning, but despite feeling sore she was cleared to play by Jacobs’ trainer.
“I can’t ask more from a senior like that to come out and for as hot as she was in the first half, really we rode her momentum with her shooting in the first half,” Benoit said. “She kept us in it. Just an outstanding effort from Payton.”
Jacobs’ efficiency at the free throw line – 14 for 15 including 8 for 8 in the second quarter – helped the Golden Eagles keep pressure on South. The Golden Eagles’ defense faltered during the second half and their 25 total turnovers certainly didn’t help. But in spite of the loss, Benoit is hopeful Tuesday’s performance will spring Jacobs’ in the right direction.