CRYSTAL LAKE – Nearly 8 minutes. No field goals.
It was all Lauren Del Vecchio needed to know when she ran through a throng of Prairie Ridge defenders to convert Crystal Lake South’s first field goal of the fourth quarter in Wednesday’s IHSA Class 4A Crystal Lake South regional semifinal. The Gators’ significant lead was gone; their emotions were starting to unravel. Prairie Ridge was 1:27 away from erasing two four-point losses to the Gators this season.
Del Vecchio wasn’t having it. Coming out of a timeout with a two-point advantage, Del Vecchio got a pass from teammate Stephanie Oros and powered her way through, drew a foul and knocked down the ensuing free throw. The play iced the second-seeded Gators’ 42-36 victory over No. 3 Prairie Ridge, marking the third time this season the Gators have used last-minute heroics to beat the Wolves and end a rally.
South will face top-seeded Cary-Grove at 7:30 p.m. Friday for the regional title. The Trojans beat No. 5 Crystal Lake Central, 47-24, in Wednesday’s first game.
“Steph saw me and I just got to the middle,” Del Vecchio, a senior forward, said. “When I went to the line, I knew it was crucial. I knew I had to knock it down.”
South (23-6 overall) had not scored a field goal since the 1:29 mark in the third quarter when freshman Chanel Fanter hit a short jumper to help South lead by 10, 34-24, at the start of the fourth.
The advantage was deceiving. The Wolves (19-10), which entered the second half trailing 25-11, turned what looked like a blowout into a barn-burner. Junior guard Sarah LeBeau’s third three-pointer of the third quarter started a 13-4 run that spilled into the final 2 minutes of the fourth and pulled the Wolves within five, 37-32. South guard Carly Nolan hit three of her four free throws at the start of the fourth, but the Gators were otherwise quiet while Prairie Ridge made its case for the upset.
With 1:42 remaining, Wolves junior Alex Neckopulos was fouled on a short jumper and finished the three-point play to cut it to two, 37-35. South called timeout.
Then came Del Vecchio’s play – the quintessential ending to the crosstown rivalry this year.
“They have a knack for winning close games at the end,” Prairie Ridge coach Rob Baker said. “I cannot fault the effort the kids gave. We came out in the second half and figured we’d go out and see what happens. … We just ran out of gas.”
Cary-Grove (22-6), by contrast, paced itself against Central (13-16).
The Trojans, who have not lost in 2013, pulled away in the second quarter behind six of senior forward Olivia Jakubicek’s 19 points. Senior guard Kylie Smith hit back-to-back three-pointers in the final 1:30 of the first half to help C-G lead 25-11 at halftime.
Sophomore Katie Barker was 2 for 2 from behind the arc in the third quarter, and her second trey put the game out of reach, 37-15.
“Any game now could end the season,” Jakubicek said. “We definitely had that in mind early in the game to shut them down and go inside, and it worked.”