Girls basketball: Crystal Lake Central wins 1st regional title since 2019

Senior Katie Hamill leads Tigers past Burlington Central with 27 points, 15 rebounds

Crystal Lake Central's Ella Madalinski, Katie Hamill and Addison Cleary watch as their teammate, Leah Spychala, shoots a free-throw in the last minute of  the IHSA Class 3A Woodstock Regional Championship girls basketball game against Burlington Central on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024, at Woodstock High School.

WOODSTOCK – It wasn’t until there were 18 seconds left in Thursday’s Class 3A Woodstock Regional championship game that top seed Crystal Lake Central dared to take a break against a relentless Burlington Central team.

That’s when Tigers senior Katie Hamill walked up to teammates Ella Madalinski and Addison Cleary near midcourt, put an arm around each of their shoulders, then let the wave of emotions flow.

“I told them it was finally over,” Hamill said. “That’s when it finally sunk in. I said to them, ‘We’re about to be regional champs. Can you believe this is actually about to happen?’ "

Not only did it happen, but it happened in dramatic fashion, as the Tigers watched a 16-point second-half lead shrink to five late in the fourth quarter.

They then held on for dear life down the stretch for a 62-51 victory over a No. 4-seeded Rockets team that had racked up four straight regional titles before Thursday’s loss.

Hamill was as big a reason as anyone that streak came to a halt.

Her 27-point, 15-rebound double-double included four steals and four assists. She shot 10 for 17 from the field and 6 for 7 from the free-throw line.

“My AAU coach always tells me rebounds are just effort,” Hamill said. “I took that to heart tonight. Even though I’m a guard and one of the smaller players on the court, I try do everything possible to help my team win.”

Her huge night overshadowed the game sophomore teammate Ruby Macke had.

Playing in her first varsity regional title game, Macke was clutch late, scoring 14 of her 19 points in the second half, including 10 in the fourth quarter.

All her points were off the bench for the Tigers (22-9), who advanced to a Sycamore Sectional semifinal at 6 p.m. Tuesday.

They’ll face the winner of Friday’s Rochelle Regional title game between Dixon and Boylan.

“To be able to experience a moment like this is special,” Macke said. “It’s hard to put into words. We worked so hard to make this moment reality. It’s like a dream coming true.”

A slew of Macke’s points were facilitated by the brilliant passing down the stretch of junior Leah Spychala.

Spychala had seven points and 10 rebounds, but four of her team-best six assists were on second-half dishes to Macke near the rim.

“Ruby just caught fire when the game was on the line,” Spychala said. “It would’ve been foolish of me not to keep dishing to her the way she kept finishing.”

It was the Tigers’ first regional crown since 2019, when they were forced to play on two courts to win the title because of a leak on the court the game began on.

“At least we needed just one court this time,” Central coach Derek Crabill joked.

He also thanked the rest of his players for their effort, including Avery Bechler, Hope Ferrero, Quin O’Donnell, Peyton McMahon, Isabella Gray, Sammi Pottorff and Katelyn Mazza.

“They all played a part, every single one of them,” Crabill said. “Even the girls who didn’t get in the game. This title belongs to them, too.

“They’re the ones who prepared us in practices. Their hard work and sacrifices are as big a contribution as every one of our starters.”

Burlington Central coach Mike Carani, whose team finishes the season with a 15-16 record, got 11 points from senior Emna Payton, eight points from senior Kenzie Andersen and a six-point, eight-rebound, five-assist effort from freshman Audrey La Fleur.

And when the game was on the line, senior Savannah Scheuer (team-best 13 points) was clutch, sinking three second-half 3s and a pair of foul shots.

But it wasn’t quite enough. The teams split their two Fox Valley Conference matchups.

“When we beat them earlier in the season, we made a ton of 3s, over a dozen,” Carani said. “Tonight, we didn’t have any in the first half, and it took us awhile to get hot.

“I’m so proud of the effort these girls put forth all year, including today. They showed tremendous heart rallying the way they did. We just couldn’t finish the comeback. Huge credit to Central. They were poised and got the job done.”