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Tuesday, March 1, 2011

RM Preview of Super

After Friday’s practice, Galesburg High School seniors Jessica Howard and Megan Young were all smiles, even giddy as they walked off the court. And why shouldn’t they be?

After all, the two have been a major part of this season’s turnaround and the improbable playoff run that now has the Silver Streaks (28-6) just one game away from reaching the state tournament for the first time since the 2002-2003 season.

The final team standing in their way is the 27-2 Hillcrest Hawks of Country Club Hills who won the Rich East Sectional in dramatic fashion, erasing a seven-point deficit in the final minutes to defeat Morgan Park 81-76.

It was unfamiliar territory for Hillcrest which has made a habit of blowing out teams throughout the regular season and had cruised through its first three games of the postseason.

The Hawks have some similarities to the Streaks as they often look to score of its defensive pressure and constantly looks to push the ball down the court with their big and athletic guards.

“They create a lot of problems with their defense,” Galesburg coach Evan Massey said. “They have a great combination of quickness and size and with that they get a lot of deflections and can close out on shooters quickly.”

Hillcrest has put up at least 80 points in every game this postseason, while Galesburg has scored 45 points or more in the first half in three of its last four games. But Massey said his team does not plan to get into a high-flying shootout with a loaded Hawks squad.

“I don’t think we are necessarily playing as fast as we did earlier in the season,” said Massey. “We are a little bit more deliberate in what we are trying to do on offense. I’m not sure we have the ability or the desire to try and run with them. That is something we will have to look at.”

During its playoff run, the Streaks have been able to get off to fast starts, taking control of the game early before teams can adjust to their unique style of play. That will be critical again come Monday, as Hillcrest also plays a different style of that could give Galesburg some early problems as well.

“We’ve come out so strong each game so far,” Young said. “That has kind of been our focus to come out early and establish dominance. If we can keep doing that, I think we can relax and play our game.”

Hillcrest is led by a powerful quintet including sophomore Dana Gettis, senior Yolanda De La Torre and a pair of juniors in Shannise Hardy and Samirah Ali. While all can play on both ends of the floor, its Gettis is who playing her best ball of the season, scoring 13 of her 22 points in the fourth quarter in the Hawks’ come from behind win.

Meanwhile, Hillcrest coach John Maniatis will most likely be trying to figure out a way to shut down Galesburg’s biggest offensive threat in Howard. Howard has enjoyed a big senior season and enters Monday’s game just two 3-pointers shy of tying the Illinois state record of most 3s made in a season — held by Kassie Drew of Hononegah with 138. And while Howard has no doubt been one of the biggest reasons the Streaks are in the supersectional game, Massey said he almost prefers when teams try to take away Galesburg’s best player.

“Where we have grown as a team was earlier in the year, the scouting report to beat us was stop Jessica (Howard),” Massey said. “Now, that is not really an issue. We’ve won games where she has scored a lot, but we have also won games where she scores five or six points. As weird as it sounds, in some ways our best games are when the other team’s really focuses on her because that allows us to do other things.”

And that’s fine by Howard who said she couldn’t care less if she goes scoreless as long as it means the Streaks are heading back to state.

“I’ll do whatever it takes,” said Howard. “We just want to get there.”

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