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Samantha Pryor helps lead Burlington Central into the Class 3A Genoa-Kingston sectional championship game against Sterling on Thursday. | Erik Anderson~For Sun-Times Media
This season’s inexperience theme means nothing now to Burlington Central’s girls basketball team.
What does matter is the Rockets are a win from a berth in the elite eight of Class 3A basketball and the school’s second sectional championship.
Nevertheless, there are plenty of intriguing aspects to Thursday night’s championship game at the Class 3A Genoa-Kingston Sectional pitting the Rockets (26-4) against Sterling (21-12), with a trip to the Hoffman Estates Supersectional against either Vernon Hills or Regina Dominican on the line.
“It’s the two Central coaches matchup, right?” Rockets coach Mark Smith said.
Sterling’s coach is Julie Schroeder, who was an assistant at Central five years before taking over in 2000-01 for John Lund, then coaching four seasons.
But to this year’s young Rockets team, that means nothing. After all, the freshmen who have had such a big part in the Rockets setting a school record for victories in Smith’s first year as coach were in first grade when Schroeder left the school.
Central, which beat Marian Central 54-29 in the semifinals Tuesday, continued showing an ability to adapt to situations far beyond its years of experience — or lack thereof.
The Rockets had 14 points from Alison Colby and 11 from Kayla Ross, while reserve Samantha Pryor stepped up for 13 points in the win over Marian Central.
In the game, the Rockets tried something which could be a benefit in this game or even in a supersectional if they can win Thursday as Smith went to a bigger lineup using Pryor, Colby and backup center Rebecca Gehrke at the same time.
“We wanted to keep looking at Becca and Alison on the floor at the same time,” Smith said.
“That means Sam (Pryor) or (guard) Shelby (Holt) shift over to the three (small forward). We wanted to keep looking at that because Becca is playing well and I want to get her in the game. ... I just wanted to take a look offensively and see what we could do with those two bigs in there at the same time.”
It’s a situation which might come into play considering Sterling’s playing style and team makeup.
“They kind of play like us except they really like to run the floor,” Smith said. “They’ve got five kids who can handle the ball. They don’t really have a true post. They’ve got some nice athletes.”
Sterling also has a three-point shooter possibly better than any the Rockets have faced this year in Stephanie Kester.
She tied a school record with six in her team’s 60-54 sectional semifinal win over a Rockford Lutheran team that Sterling lost to earlier in the year.
“They’ve got a kid who can really shoot the threes, so obviously we’re going to have to guard her,” Smith said.
And while Sterling lacks a big post player, it doesn’t seem to affect rebounding. Kiarrra Harris had 18 rebounds in the win over Lutheran.
Central will have its inexperience factor to contend with, but long ago the Rockets seem to have forgotten about this.
The Rockets may have five freshmen and five sophomores, but at this point in a schedule freshmen are like sophomores and sophomores are like juniors, anyway.
“I think we just came together as a team,” Pryor said.
“It’s like, ‘you know what guys, let’s keep this going.’”