When the Joliet Central and Joliet West girls basketball teams met Dec. 9 at Central’s Steelmen Gym, the district rivals played a close game that could have gone either way.
The Steelmen won that game, 47-44, as Jalysa Stokes scored 14 of her 22 points in the second half, and Allasha Alexander had nine points and 14 rebounds.
Grace Walsh had 15 points and 10 rebounds to lead the Tigers in that game, who also got 11 points from Lisa Thompson. West didn’t have senior leader Jazzpher Evans available because of an injury.
Both teams left the court that night with identical 5-3 records and 2-1 marks in the Southwest Prairie Conference, and it’s hard to imagine that they would have guessed what would play out for them over the next month.
Central followed that win with 13 more to give it an 18-3 overall record and a 15-game winning streak. For West, that game was the last it has lost, and the Tigers now own a 11-game winning streak and are 16-3 overall.
Coach Laura Brumfiel’s Steelmen were 3-3 after losing to Plainfield South to open SPC play, but then beat Romeoville before their win over the Tigers to start their impressive run. Included in that streak were tournament titles at Bradley-Bourbonnais and Oswego East to go with five more conference wins.
Since the setback to the Steelmen, coach John Placher’s Tigers haven’t lost, capturing the title at the Sandburg Invite and winning five more SPC games to give both Joliet teams 7-1 SPC records heading into this week’s play, which is not only the best in the East division, but the entire conference.
Central enjoyed a great season a year ago when it went 24-7 and lost in the sectional final to Oswego. That’s one reason why its come-from-behind victory over the Panthers in the title game at Oswego East was rewarding. The Steelmen graduated several key players from last year’s successful team, and this team looks like it’s headed for a similar season.
“Our girls have been playing very well and very hard,” Brumfiel said. “They are a resilient group of kids who love to play together. We continue to have different players stepping up throughout the year to give us a balanced attack.
“We are very excited to see how the rest of the season plays out. We are lucky to have the group of girls that we have this year as they are a great group and a pleasure to coach.”
Stokes, a junior guard who will be honored on Tuesday for scoring her 1,000th career point, was the Oswego East Classic MVP and is averaging 16.9 points a game. Alexander, a senior forward, is averaging 11.3 points and six rebounds a game, while junior guard Ashanti Brown is averaging 8.2 points a game, and junior forward Kameryn Chandler is averaging 5.0 rebounds a game.
The Tigers already have surpassed last year’s win total of 13 and need to win just once more to equal their best record since the programs returned after the co-op years.
Thompson, a freshman guard, leads West with 16.2 points, 4.9 assists and 4.6 rebounds a game, while Evans, a four-year varsity guard and the MVP at Sandburg, is averaging 15.9 points, 3.9 assists and 4.1 rebounds a game. Walsh, a sophomore guard, is averaging 11.2 points and 3.9 rebounds and junior forward Maliyah Walker is averaging 5.4 points and 7.6 rebounds a game.
While the two teams hope to continue their winning ways until they meet on Feb. 11 at West, they realize that anything can happen before then. With both schools in the same Class 4A subsectional and West hosting a regional, there’s a possibility that they’ll play again in a decisive third meeting in the playoffs, where 17-2 Lincoln-Way West is the sectional favorite right now after beating both teams early.