Girls basketball: Dixon holds off Crystal Lake Central to reach Class 3A sectional championship

Duchesses senior guard Katie Drew hits clutch 3-pointer in 51-47 win

Dixon and Crystal Lake Central players go after a rebound during their Class 3A sectional semifinal Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024, at Sycamore High School.

SYCAMORE – Dixon senior guard Katie Drew felt at ease with her team holding a one-point lead over Crystal Lake Central late in the fourth quarter Tuesday.

Drew and the Duchesses have had to overcome close finishes before, including last week’s regional final win against Boylan.

On Tuesday, it was Drew who came up with the big shot for Dixon, drilling a key 3-pointer at the top of the key with just over two minutes left and pushing the Duchesses lead to four.

“We’ve been in some close games this postseason, and we have a really tough mindset when teams get close to us,” said Drew, who scored a team-high 14 points on 4-of-9 shooting, including three 3s. “I think everybody on this team is good at that, not letting anything get to them.”

The top-seeded Tigers couldn’t get over the hump in the second half as the No. 3-seeded Duchesses held on for a 51-47 win in a Class 3A Sycamore Sectional semifinal.

Dixon (26-6) advances to play No. 2 Kaneland – a 44-41 winner over top-seeded Sycamore in the second semifinal – at 7 p.m. Thursday in the championship.

The Duchesses last won a sectional title in 1990. The Tigers (22-10), meanwhile, were searching for their first sectional championship since 1982.

“They’re super excited, and they’re very deserving,” Dixon coach Luke Ravlin said. “They work very hard and put in a lot of time, effort and heart into everything they do, so it’s great to see.”

I think everybody on this team is good at that, not letting anything get to them.”

—  Katie Drew, Dixon senior guard

Dixon ended the first half on an 8-2 run to take a 27-22 lead into the break. Central went on a 6-0 run near the start of the third quarter – getting two buckets from junior forward Leah Spychala and one from sophomore forward Ruby Macke – to cut the lead to 32-31 with 3:14 left in the third.

A three-point play by Spychala with 7:02 remaining in the fourth kept it a one-score game at 39-38. Dixon eventually pushed its lead to 45-42 on a one-handed running shot in the lane from Drew. Spychala answered on the other end, making the score 45-44.

After a timeout and turnover by Central, Drew got a pass from junior forward Hallie Williamson (13 points, five rebounds) and stepped up for a 3 and a 48-44 lead with 2:20 left. It was that big 3 that gave the Duchesses some extra relief.

“She’s the kind of player that’s going to do whatever her team needs,” Ravlin said. “When you have a number of those types of players on the team, like we do, that’s when you can do really big things.”

Crystal Lake Central's Leah Spychala goes up for a shot in front of Dixon’s Hallie Williamson during their Class 3A sectional semifinal Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024, at Sycamore High School.

Sophomore guard Reese Dambman tied Drew with a team-high 14 points, and sophomore Morgan Hargrave and freshman Ahmyrie McGowan (12 rebounds) each scored five.

Spychala (nine rebounds) and Macke (seven rebounds) led the Tigers with 17 points apiece. Katie Hamill, the program’s all-time leading scorer with more than 1,800 points in her career, recorded nine points, five rebounds and four assists in her last high school game.

Central coach Derek Crabill was proud of the fight his team showed Tuesday and throughout the season. The Tigers started 1-4 at the Buffalo Grove Bison Classic. After Christmas, they went a sizzling 15-2. Central’s 22 victories were its most since 1995.

Central had a strong senior class, including Hamill, Ella Madalinski, Addison Cleary, Avery Bechler, Izzy Gray, Quin O’Donnell, Hope Ferrero and Katelyn Mazza.

“After that start, these girls really put in a lot of the work on the things they didn’t necessarily enjoy,” Crabill said. “They made a commitment to each other to get better. I think it’s that improvement that made me the happiest, and it’s in large part due to our senior class and how strong of leaders they’ve become.”

Hamill, who led the Northwest Herald area in scoring, had an emotional goodbye to her teammates and coaches, including her mom Vicki, an assistant coach for the Tigers.

“It was a lot to soak in,” said Hamill, who will play next year at NCAA Division II Missouri-St. Louis. “This has been one of my favorite teams. I’m really going to miss playing with them. It was just a lot to take in the moment, knowing that was my last time my mom was going to coach me, too.

“I’m very grateful for everything I accomplished on the court, but I couldn’t have done it without them. I’m just going to remember all the fun moments at practice, the goofy times.”

Dixon’s Ahmyrie McGowan gets up a shot in front of Crystal Lake Central's Quin O'Donnell during their Class 3A sectional semifinal Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024, at Sycamore High School.