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Elgin, 02/20/14--Hinckley-Big Rock's Lauren Paver splits the defense of Luther North's Clair Bromley and Ariel Allen. Hinckley-Big Rock played Luther North in a girls Class 1A Sectional final basketball game at Harvest Christian Academy Thursday evening.
Every team in the state hopes they will have a chance to make it to the finals when the season begins. But as the season unfolds, sometimes that dream can start to fade.
For Hinckley-Big Rock’s girls basketball team, sitting at 7-11 in mid-January, state seemed distant at best.
But after Thursday’s convincing 55-31 win over Luther North in the Class 1A Harvest Christian Sectional final, the Royals have suddenly won 11 of their last 13 games and find themselves one win away from the Final Four in Normal next weekend.
Hinckley will face Eastland (27-5) — which beat Amboy 55-54 in overtime on a free throw with no time on the clock Thursday — in Monday’s DeKalb Supersectional at 7 p.m. with a trip to state on the line.
“This is a surreal thought,” H-BR coach Greg Burks said. “It’s an overwhelming thought. You get to this point and you realize that you’re a win away from playing on the final weekend. It’s an exciting time. I know everybody will be nervous going out there, but that’s all right. We’re honored to be moving on.”
A big reason for the advancement has been the play of senior Lauren Paver. She scored 21 points Thursday, after scoring 38 in a win over Christian Liberty Academy and 30 in the regional title win over Harvest Christian.
She and the Royals’ two other seniors, Andrea Binkley and Caitlin Flanigan, came into the program as freshmen following the school’s back-to-back 1A state titles and were thrust onto the varsity team right away in a numbers’ crunch.
“For them to come in and fit in as freshmen, we still had a lot of talent,” Burks said. “It had to be kind of a scary experience for them, but at the same time, maybe they learned a lot about what it takes to compete.”
Thursday’s sectional title game was the seventh time in the past eight years that the Royals have reached that stage, a streak that reaches back to Larry Peppers’ final two years at the helm and all six of Burks’ seasons coaching his alma mater. Thursday’s win was already the 150th in Burks’ tenure.
Eastland won its first sectional crown in 10 years. The team the Cougars beat, Amboy, is respected across 1A, but it was the first time in 30 years they played for a sectional title after winning their first regional crown in 24 years.
The lesson is that the Royals have been on an incredible streak, a streak that continues Monday.
“We’re really blessed here in that we’ve been in this position consistently,” Burks said. “I hope people don’t get spoiled by that. It’s easy to start taking things for granted. I know the players don’t do that, and I certainly don’t do that.”