Top 3 teams ready for big games

The girls basketball playoffs begin Feb. 17 for teams in Class 4A, but there definitely will be a playoff atmosphere for some local teams this week.

While seeds were announced Thursday and postseason pairings were released Friday, one matchup this week in particular is assured of having an impact on regional play.

That game takes place Tuesday at Joliet West, when the Tigers play district rival Joliet Central. The two teams met on Dec. 9 at Central and the Steelmen pulled out a 47-44 victory over the Tigers in that contest.

All Joliet West has done since then is win. Coach John Placher's Tigers have responded to that loss with 21-straight wins after falling to 5-3 following that loss to Central. Joliet West, who's led by veteran Jazzpher Evans, brings a 26-3 record into the showdown.

But just as impressive as Joliet West's winning streak has been, Central also has played at a high level with Jalysa Stokes leading the way after starting 3-3.

Coach Laura Brumfiel's Steelmen won 16 straight before losing a one-point decision to Oswego on Jan. 17. They've bounced back to win seven straight after that for an impressive 23-1 run since a loss to Plainfield South on Dec. 3. Central's is 26-4 going into the big game.

The first meeting's significance may not be that big, since it was long ago and the Tigers didn't have Evans because of an injury.

The Tigers lead the Southwest Prairie Conference East Division standings at 14-1, while the 13-2 Steelmen need to win to assure themselves a share of the title.

But as often happens after rivals play big games late in the season, they meet up again in the postseason. And that seemed likely after the seedings in the Class 4A Pekin Sectional were announced. With the Tigers getting the No. 2 seed and the Steelmen at No. 3, the two probably will meet again on Feb. 20 in a regional final at Joliet West.

Another team closely watching the Joliet schools is Lincoln-Way West. The Warriors have been highly ranked in the state much of the year. They've only suffered losses to three of the state's top teams in Benet Academy, Morton and Montini Catholic, while beating a top-ranked team in Evanston.

Lincoln-Way West earned the No. 1 seed in the same half of the Pekin Sectional that the Joliet schools are in. The Warriors likely would play in the regional final at Normal Community against Normal West or the hosts.

With the three Gugliuzza sisters leading the way, coach Ryan White's Warriors are 24-3 and wrap up regular season play against Bradley-Bourbonnais and Stagg, as they look to stay perfect in the SouthWest Suburban Conference Red Division.

The Warriors easily beat the Steelmen and the Tigers in November, but that was a long time ago, and they know that the Joliet teams have improved since then.

Whoever wins the Joliet West and Normal Community regionals are scheduled to meet Feb. 25 in Pekin, or perhaps at a site closer to the schools. But the title game will be played on Feb. 27 in Pekin against a team from the St. Louis Metro East, with Edwardsville and O'Fallon being the favorites.