BOLINGBROOK – After seeing his team drop a 60-59 double overtime thriller at Homewood-Flossmoor on Thursday, Bolingbrook girls basketball coach Chris Smith knew all too well that the SouthWest Suburban Conference Blue championship was up for grabs.
The Raiders took the advantage in the race when they handed Lincoln-Way East its first conference loss, 47-46, on Jan. 18 in Frankfort, but the loss to Homewood-Flossmoor ensured that the teams would play a winner-take-all game on Tuesday.
While the rematch shared many similarities with the earlier meeting, Bolingbrook took advantage of a scoring drought by Lincoln-Way East to go on a decisive 12-0 run that helped the Raiders capture a 56-46 win and wrap up a 9-1 conference record, 21-4 overall.
Bolingbrook had dropped its last two games, losing on Saturday to Michigan powerhouse Detroit Edison. Smith is hopeful that the big win over the Griffins (25-4, 8-2) provides a boost as his team prepares for the postseason.
The Raiders, the No. 1 seed in the Class 4A Neuqua Valley Sectional, will host a regional that features Joliet West and Plainfield North. East is the top-seed in the Class 4A Mother McAuley Sectional and hosts a regional that includes Stagg and Crete-Monee.
“It was very important following the loss to H-F, and then going to Detroit to play a nationally ranked team before being to able to come back home and finishing it off for the conference championship,” Smith said. “The sectional should be tough, since you want those competitive games. I’m glad that we get the opportunity to hopefully win the regional on our home court and then compete at Neuqua Valley. It’s been a great learning experience, and some of my younger players have contributed to help this team achieve its goal to win conference.”
Things were looking encouraging for coach Jim Martin’s Griffins after they took a 31-28 lead with 4:08 left in the third quarter on a steal and a layup from Carolyn Waleski (14 points, seven rebounds), but they were unable to score again for the next 6:07, during which time the Raiders moved ahead, 32-31, with a quarter to go and built their lead to 40-31 with 6:35 left.
The back breaker for East was consecutive 3-pointers made by Jayden Marable (13 points) and Danyel Middleton (six points) to open the fourth quarter. The Griffins were unable to get closer than four points after that outburst.
“We had the tempo at our pace and did a nice job of getting out on their shooters and making them think about it,” Martin said. “He (Smith) made some nice adjustments and they hit the two threes, and that killed us. They really defended well and we had trouble finding a group of girls to score. We score off of our transition on defensive steals and had a couple early but at the end we never got any, so that made it hard for us to come back. Our kids get frustrated with themselves when things don’t go their way and you can’t do that in this game.”
Bolingbrook, which was led by Gabby Smith (17 points, 12 rebounds), led 15-10 late in the first quarter but then went 4:41 without scoring as East went on a 13-0 spurt to take a 23-15 lead following a three-pointer from Cambrii Alexander (five points). Lauren Hunter had 12 of her 14 points and seven of her 10 rebounds in the opening half for the Griffins.
During the final 4:32 of the opening half, the Raiders went on an 11-2 run, capping things with a trey from Marable to grab a 26-25 halftime advantage.
“It was a hard-fought conference season, but we pulled it out,” Marable said. “We were all down after losing at H-F and the conference was up for grabs so we were happy to be on our home court today. We fight hard and need to start off our games better but we end them well. We’re very excited for the playoffs and we’re going to work hard. I like our togetherness.”
The Raiders also received nine points apiece from Taylor Robinson (eight rebounds) and Jahari Smith (12 points) while the Griffins also got five points from Delani Grayer.
“I feel like winning this conference gives us a lot of confidence, and is going to be like a push going into regionals and sectionals,” Gabby Smith said. “Hopefully we can make it to the super-sectional and make a run at it at state. We all play together and know each others’ strengths and personalities and everybody plays to their abilities and our record shows it.”