CRYSTAL LAKE – Katie Barker swiped the ball at the top of the key, found teammate Olivia Jakubicek streaking down the court and placed a pass right into Jakubicek’s outstretched hand so she could convert a transition layup and bring Cary-Grove’s girls basketball fans to their feet.
The Trojans were two minutes into the IHSA Class 4A Crystal Lake South Regional final against the host Gators on Friday, and already C-G’s defense had asserted itself as the definitive factor in the most critical meeting between the rivals this season.
Twenty-three South turnovers later, top-seeded C-G hoisted its fourth consecutive 4A regional title plaque, their 54-40 victory against the No. 2 Gators propelled by a package of defenses that made South look more charitable than it had for much of the season.
C-G will face Streamwood at 7:30 p.m. Monday in a Class 4A Rockford East Sectional semifinal.
“It’s definitely our defense that gets us in the groove” said Jakubicek, who led all scorers with 20 points to go with 10 rebounds. “It carries our momentum throughout the game and our offense can only come from that.”
Knowing South would go inside to forwards Sarah Mickow, Lauren Del Vecchio and Carly Nolan, the Trojans (23-6) took away the passing lanes and made the Gators go over the defense to force many of South’s 16 first-half turnovers. C-G scored six quick transition points in the first quarter to set the tone and put together a 12-3 run fueled by Barker (11 points), guard Joslyn Nicholson (13 points) and Jakubicek to close the first and open the second quarter. The Trojans led 20-8 with 4:42 left in the first half.
“We know one another so well,” C-G coach Rod Saffert said of South. “We knew the key for us tonight was to keep them from going inside and we did a good job, and we got after it.”
Part of that familiarity, though, includes knowing how to weather the inevitable comeback. Down 36-23 to start the fourth quarter, South guard Rachel Rasmussen went 4 for 4 from the stripe, Del Vecchio hit a pair of free throws and Nolan nailed a long jumper to pull within seven, 38-31, and force Saffert to use a timeout with 6:08 left to play. Rasmussen’s long jumper at the 5:28 mark pulled the Gators (23-7) within six, 39-33, but Jakubicek helped distance the Trojans again with a three-point play, two free throws and an assist to teammate Abby Glaysher who had shed her defender under the basket.
Nicholson’s jumper rounded out the short run and the Trojans led by 12, 48-36, with 3:27 remaining.
Despite the deficit, South coach Kyle McCaughn knew his team was capable of coming back and claiming its first regional title since 2009. But the late-game efforts couldn’t erase the early missteps.
“We played a little timid early on and we didn’t take care of the ball the way we needed to,” McCaughn said. “But I couldn’t be more proud of this group and what they’ve accomplished and how far they’ve come in the last three years.”