In the biggest game in the program’s history, the Huntley girls basketball team’s greatest opponent was pace itself.
The white-hot Raiders, who were going into the Class 4A Rockford East Sectional Championship against the Streamwood on Thursday night, had to counter the Sabres’ aggressive full-court press defense to advance to the Elite Eight round of the playoffs.
“We know going into this game that handling the basketball was going to be key because they like to jump it in full-court and half-court, double-team and try to get steals,” said Huntley head coach Steve Raethz.
That meant slowing things down after knocking off top-notch teams DeKalb, Belvidere North, and Harlem en route to a second regional championship in three years and the first sectional win in school history, while playing against what seemed to be a destined Streamwood team in Huntley’s first game with the roaring support of a packed Huntley student section.
“Sometimes when we play fast, we get out of control and we end up turning it over so… I wanted our offense to slow down so we run more fluently on offense,” said Huntley senior guard Haley Ream.
In addition to her defense, which helped the Raiders hold the Sabres to just 11 first-half points, Ream added 14 points offensively and helped slow down Streamwood’s fast-paced offense.
“I thought Haley Ream played an outstanding game on both ends of the floor,” Raethz said. “She did so many positive things for us. She really stepped up as a senior and really led us tonight.”
That meant slowing down Streamwood stars Deja Moore and Jessica Cerda, which they did.
“In terms of individual efforts on defense tonight, I thought Bethany Zornow just did a fantastic job on Deja Moore,” said Raethz, whose guard held the star to just 6 points. “Haley did a great job on Cerda.”
That also meant slowing down Streamwood in the second half, which was imperative to the Raiders’ victory on them earlier this season.
“We tightened up some things offensively coming out of halftime and I thought the kids did a real nice job being patient and we got some great looks,” Raethz said.
But the Raiders slowed things down the most with a 5-point lead and 2:51 left on the clock, draining the clock down to 18 seconds while only exchanging three Sam Andrews free throws and a Cerda three-point shot.
“I thought in the last three minutes we did a nice job of passing and catching the basketball, and being patient,” Raethz said.
Then those 18 seconds ran down to 6 seconds, and that’s when things slowed down the most. Andrews grabbed an inbound pass and clutched it until the final buzzer, giving Huntley its first-ever sectional championship by a score of 45-41.
That’s when things sped up.
The Raiders hoisted the plaque, climbed the ladder and cut down the rope, quickly escorting themselves into wrinkled walls of Huntley High School history by winning the program’s first sectional championship.
“What a win for our program,” Raethz said. “It’s been an outstanding ride and I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
Huntley will play Wheaton Warrenville South on Monday in the Class 4A Dundee-Crown Super-Sectional for a chance to speed things up to the state semifinals, which take place next weekend.
“It’s going to be one heck of a game and a real tough test,” Raethz said. “We’re just absolutely thrilled to be representing Huntley and have the opportunity to play on Monday.”
Photos by Mike Krebs/The Voice