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Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Todd Rudolf's Story on Super

For the first five minutes of the Class 3A Pontiac Supersectional, the Galesburg High School girls basketball team did not look like it belonged with one of the state’s best. But by the final time horn sounded, there was little doubt that the Silver Streaks not only belonged, but could play with just about anyone.

Galesburg (28-7) gave Country Club Hills Hillcrest (28-2) everything it could handle in a wild, high scoring shootout. The Hawks emerged from with a 77-70 victory, advancing to the state semifinals at 2 p.m. Friday against Chicago Marshall.

The Streaks fought tooth and nail with a bigger, longer, more athletic Hawks team, proving their run to the program’s first supersectional run in nine years was anything but a fluke.

“Obviously, right now we are going to be sad, but we can’t hang our heads,” senior guard Jessica Howard said. “We played hard all season and made it farther than anyone thought we would. We could have given up, but we didn’t and we stuck together. I’m proud of everyone on the team.”

In fact, for a majority of the game, Galesburg appeared to be the team in control, but it was two four-minutes stretches that prevented the Streaks from reaching the state tournament. A slow start to the game and a scoreless drought of nearly five minutes in the third quarter put Galesburg in catch-up mode only to fall a few plays short down the stretch.

“Those first four minutes to start and then that four-minute stretch in the third quarter, they totally dominated us and that was enough to beat us,” Galesburg coach Evan Massey said. “But the other 24 minutes, I think we probably were up 15, but that’s not how you play the game.”

Despite the two lapses, the Streaks had several chances to swing the game back in their favor but that magic appeared to run out as the Hawks were able to make a few more plays in the final minutes.

The best opportunity for Galesburg came with just under a minute remaining as Tai Peachey stole the inbounds pass and dribbled toward the basket for what looked to be an uncontested layup. But Hillcrest’s Shannie Heady — one of several high flyers for the Hawks — swooped in and blocked Peachey’s shot, preserving a 70-66 lead.

“We got the steal, we went to the basket and if you get either the layup or the two-shot foul you're back within two points,” said Massey. “Unfortunately we didn’t get either.”

Heady made another big stop on the next possession, blocking a Jessica Lieber 3-point attempt and splitting a pair of free throws to take a 73-66 lead. Howard cut the lead to four with her sixth 3-pointer, but Hillcrest made its last four free throws to seal the win.

“We played hard enough at the end to have a prayer,” Massey said. “We just couldn’t get the right calls or breaks to finish it.”

Galesburg looked like it would need a miracle to even make it a game early on as the Hawks shot out like a bottle rocket to open the game, taking a 14-2 lead before Massey, the Streaks and their fans knew what hit them.

With Heady showing off her speed with several fast-break layups and center Jahima Phillips dominating the glass, the Streaks appeared overmatched at every position.

But like they have done so many times this year, the Streaks took the Hawks’ best knockout punch and countered with a 14-6 run of their own to cut the lead to 20-16 after one. Galesburg played its best quarter of the game in the second, burying 3-pointers from all over the court and even managed to take 34-32 lead into the half.

The Streaks would hold that lead for the first half of the third before they went cold, allowing the Hawks to go on a 12-0 run and take a 52-44 lead into the final quarter.

“Coach Massey warned us they were a very fast team and they will be ready to go,” Peachey said. “We responded well, but just came up a little short. We didn’t give up and gave us a chance to come back. I would have liked to have won, but I can’t be upset with how we played.”

Hillcrest was led by Phillips, who was nearly unstoppable inside with 22 points and 17 rebounds, while Heady added 16.

Howard led Galesburg with 22 points, including six 3-pointers, making her the new state record holder for 3s made in a season with 139. Howard is one of five seniors — along with Peachey, Megan Young, Mickey Rodriguez and Jamie Johnson — who went from just three games over .500 as juniors to sectional champions as seniors.

“The first couple years here wasn’t the best for us,” Howard said. “But this group worked hard and bought in to what we were trying to do. I couldn’t have asked for a better group of teammates.”

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