FREEPORT – Shot after shot went up as time ticked away in the fourth quarter and all the Sterling Golden Warriors needed was one rebound.
With the score tied in the semifinal of the 3A Freeport Regional, the ball bounced once more off the rim and, as if it were made of lead and Peyton Kennedy’s hands were magnets, the ball went to the Boylan senior star.
Kennedy powered her way toward the hoop, forcing Brook Borum to foul her – Borum’s fifth of the game – and put her on the line. Kennedy made both free throws, and after a pair of Sterling turnovers and an additional free throw by Reagan Ulrich, Boylan escaped with a 71-68 victory.
“All that was running through my head is that I have to get the ball, and I have to either make the shot or get fouled,” Kennedy said.“Once I was fouled, I had to make the free throws for my team.
“This is how we have been winning games all season. It’s been a battle almost every game, and we’ve had to pull it out each time.”
Kennedy, who finished with 32 points and 16 rebounds, will lead the Titans (23-8) into Thursday’s championship game where it will face Belvidere North (23-9).
“Give a lot of credit to No. 32 [Kennedy],” Sterling coach Taylor Jackson said. “She’s a tremendous player and made the shots when they needed it at the end. We fought hard the entire way, and I think we had a few chances in the third and fourth quarter that we bobbled a bit that could have changed things. I am really proud though of how hard we played.”
Sterling survived a first half where foul trouble nearly derailed the Warriors. On one Boylan possession early in the second quarter, Brook Borum and Serena Criss both picked up two fouls. Borum would pick up her third foul moments later and sit the final 5 minutes, 53 seconds of the half.
While she sat, her sister Bree Borum and senior Grace Gould led the Sterling (16-16) charge to keep the Warriors in the game. Both scored six points and the Warriors trailed by 36-31 going into the break.
“We had so many girls step up in big spots tonight,” Jackson said. “Bree made some big plays during that stretch. She always plays so hard and that motivates the rest of the team.”
In the third quarter, Boylan looked to be pulling away, stretching the lead out to nine points with 3 minutes to play. Sterling fought back as Brook Borum led the fast-paced Warriors and by the end the quarter Sterling trailed only by three at 54-51.
“No lead is safe,” Kennedy said. “We knew that. We wereplaying a zone most of the night, and switched to a box-and-1. We wanted to do whatever we could to slow down No. 10 [Brook Borum].”
Brook Borum scored 20 of her 24 points in the second half. She also had 16 rebounds. Bree Borum had 19 points and five rebounds, and Gould had 11 points.
Elle Eshelman scored 17 points for Boylan.
The game was tight the entire fourth quarter, and when Bree Borum stepped into the passing lane with 20 seconds left and drove the length of the court for a layup to tie the score at 68, it looked like the Warriors were going to have the momentum to carry them to the upset win.
But the ball ultimately found Kennedy’s hands on the next possession, and Boylan advanced to the sectional championship.
Star of the game: Petyon Kennedy, Boylan, 32 points, 16 rebounds
Key performers: Brook Borum, Sterling, 24 points, 16 rebounds; Bree Borum, 19 points, 5 rebounds, 3 steals; Elle Eshelman, Boylan,17 points, 6 rebounds.
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