Girls basketball: Lincoln-Way East uses defense to power win over Joliet Central in regional semifinal

Lincoln-Way East’s Lilly Dockemeyer puts up a three point shot against Joliet Central in the Class 4A Joliet Central Regional semifinal on Feb. 13th, 2024 in Joliet.

JOLIET – With career 1,000-point scorers Hayven Smith and Lana Kerley on the floor, it’s easy for Lincoln-Way East’s Lily Dockemeyer to sometimes get overlooked.

That wasn’t a problem Tuesday night, as Dockemeyer scored 13 points and was a key piece of the Griffins’ defense in a 62-17 win over Joliet Central in the Class 4A Joliet Central semifinal.

“We did a good job with our pressure,” Dockemeyer said. “We were able to force some turnovers early. When we do that, it brings energy to our offense. We talk about it a lot, that defense can be there every game. There might be games where the offense isn’t as good, but the defense and rebounding, the things that take effort, can be there every game.

“On offense, we have played together for so long that we know where everyone is going to be, and where everyone’s best place to shoot is. We are confident in everyone to shoot, so it doesn’t matter to us who shoots, as long it’s someone that’s open.”

With Joliet Central focusing its defense on containing the 6-foot-6 Smith, Dockemeyer stepped to the forefront and made three of the Griffins’ eight 3-pointers. She also had a handful of steals that led to fast-break points. Kerley, meanwhile, hit two 3-pointer on her way to a game-high 14 points, while Makayla Kelly, Maddie Yacobozzi and Sophia Nanney added a 3-pointer each.

Lincoln-Way East’s Lana Kerley makes a move to the basket against Joliet Central in the Class 4A Joliet Central Regional semifinal on Feb. 13th, 2024 in Joliet.

The East (26-5) defense forced Central (9-21) into six turnovers in the first quarter and helped the Griffins race out to a 15-0 lead before Central’s Naveah Wright made a free throw late in the quarter to get the Steelmen on the board.

East continued its smothering defense in the second quarter, outscoring Central 14-3 to take a 30-4 lead at halftime.

“We set the tone with our press,” East coach Jim Nair said. “We were able to create turnovers and get points off of them. They [Central] tried to take away Hayven, and they did a good job of it. But that opened things up outside for Lily and Lana. Maddie Yacobozzi did a great job of running the floor, and Makayla Kelly did a good job of finding her on fast breaks.”

The Griffins’ starters sat for much of the second half, but not before Yacobozzi and Kerley drained back-to-back 3-pointers for a 40-6 lead. After a basket by Central’s Taneisha Robinson, Dockemeyer added a 3-pointer. Before being pulled, Dockemeyer added a basket and a 3-pointer as the Griffins took a 55-10 lead into the fourth. Nanney scored seven points in the fourth, bringing the East starters to their feet on the bench. The Griffins play Joliet West, a 57-48 winner over Bloom in the other semifinal, at 6 p.m. Thursday for the regional championship.

“This team has great chemistry,” Nair said. “They all cheer for each other. It was a great night to get a lot of girls some playing time. This is an awesome gym to play in, but it does have a little different shooting background, so it was nice for everyone to get in and get a look at it.”

Joliet Central’s Elliana Fowler takes a shot against Lincoln-Way East in the Class 4A Joliet Central Regional semifinal on Feb. 13th, 2024 in Joliet.

Central was led by Wright and Elliana Fowler, each of whom scored six points. The Steelmen had defeated Eisenhower 74-13 on Saturday to advance to the regional semifinal.

“We did a decent job on defense, but we just couldn’t score the basketball,” Central coach Laura Brumfiel said. “We got intimidated early and struggled the rest of the night. Lincoln-Way East is a tough matchup, and they are a very good team.

“We have a lot of players coming back next year, so we want to build on the strengths we saw this year. We got better as the season went on, and that’s what you like to see. We were able to get a postseason win on our own floor this year, too, which was nice to see.”