ROCKFORD – The noise level inside the Rockford East gym was deafening Thursday as Huntley senior Haley Ream stood underneath her team's basket during the final seconds of the Class 4A Rockford East Sectional championship game.
The Red Raiders girls basketball team became the first in program history to win a sectional championship, as they defeated Streamwood, 45-41.
"What a win," Huntley coach Steve Raethz said. "What a win for our program. It's been an absolute privilege to coach these kids this year, and it's been an outstanding ride, and I couldn't be more proud of them. What an outstanding effort, and we are absolutely thrilled to be moving on."
Huntley (25-6) will play Wheaton Warrenville South on Monday in the Dundee-Crown Supersectional with a trip to the state semifinals on the line.
It was evident from the start that Huntley brought its best. On the defensive end, Bethany Zornow held one of the Sabres' top players, Deja Moore, to six points. Zornow was all over the court, scoring five points while collecting seven rebounds and three steals.
Zornow was jumping in passing lanes and stepping in front of Moore's drives to the basket and took away the Sabres' ability to create a shot off the drive.
"I love defense. I think it's the thing that's the most important about basketball," Zornow said. "It's important to shut down the key players. I knew I was guarding Deja before the game and I knew her tendencies because I've guarded her before, so I just continued what I've learned and I knew how to shut her down."
The Red Raiders' defense was solid all around as they held the Sabres to 11 first-half points. Ream, who scored 14 points, played a great game on the defensive end against Streamwood's best player, Jessica Cerda. Ream minimized Cerda's impact on the game and even drew a charge late in the second quarter that required Cerda to take a seat because of foul trouble.
"Our whole defense was just outstanding in general tonight," Raethz said. "In terms of individual effort, Zornow did a fantastic job on Deja Moore and Haley did a great job for the most part on Cerda. Haley really stepped up as a senior tonight, and they did a good job of containing and giving help, and we just played great team defense."
Huntley's defensive effort took its toll on Sabres coach George Rosner at the end of the third quarter. His team was losing, 28-23, heading into the fourth quarter and he wasn't happy. He threw his clipboard against the floor, breaking it into three pieces after yelling to get some points.
His team responded with 18 fourth-quarter points while turning up the defensive pressure and played an aggressive full-court press. Cerda, meanwhile, connected on three 3-pointers and scored 12 points in the quarter to finish with 20, but the Red Raiders were ready for the barrage on both sides of the ball.
They scored 17 points and beat Streamwood's defense with crisp passes Ream and Sam Andrews took advantage of. Andrews scored a team-high 15 points.
"We really practiced full-court pressure," Ream said, "because it's something that we knew they liked to do, and we did a good job reacting to it."
With Huntley holding the late lead, Streamwood was forced to foul, and Sam and Ali Andrews made clutch free throws to seal the victory.
"That last three minutes we did a nice job of passing and catching the basketball and being patient," Raethz said. "We didn't rush things and we didn't get flustered with double-teams that they were throwing at us. We found the open person and were able to milk some clock."