Illinois' long-awaited matchup of Class 4A girls basketball titans -- Bolingbrook vs. Whitney Young -- became a reality Thursday night.
Neuqua Valley made a run at ruining the Hinsdale Central supersectional matchup between the teams that have split all five Class 4A titles, but the Wildcats couldn't hit the shots down the stretch to make Bolingbrook sweat.
The Wildcats had two possessions with less than five minutes to go to get closer than 7 points but couldn't get either 3-point attempt to go down.
That's when top-seeded Bolingbrook pulled away for a 56-38 victory in the Class 4A Oswego sectional final.
The second-seeded Wildcats (27-4), blessed with their best team in 10 years, matched the Raiders' quickness and physical play but never found a rhythm on offense.
Neuqua Valley converted just 26 percent from the field -- which included 1-of-17 shooting from 3-point range -- and went 5 of 15 at the free-throw line.
"We missed free throws," said Neuqua Valley coach Mike Williams. "We missed some easy shots, but it's OK. We had a great year. Twenty-seven and 4 is pretty doggone good with a bunch of young kids."
Freshman guard Myia Starks paced the Wildcats with 8 points and 4 assists coming off the bench. Juniors Najee Smith and Malia Smith added 7 points apiece before fouling out.
The physical sectional final forced both coaches to make early decisions about dealing with foul trouble.
Najee Smith picked up her second foul three minutes into the game, but Williams stuck with her and she got her third at the 3:50 mark of the second quarter. Junior guard Niki Lazar picked up her third and fourth fouls late in the second quarter and sat until the fourth quarter.
Conversely, Bolingbrook coach Anthony Smith benched 6-foot-1 junior forward Kristen Moore for the rest of the first half after picking up her second foul at the 4:42 mark of the first quarter.
His gamble worked as do-it-all senior Kennedy Cattenhead stepped forward and scored 14 of Bolingbrook's first 23 points to help the Raiders (24-5) to a 26-18 lead at the break.
Moore returned in the second half to stack up 14 points and 13 rebounds, while Cattenhead finished with 21 points and 7 rebounds. After the game she claimed initial possession of the sectional plaque and looked ahead to Monday's supersectional matchup.
"That's a fun game," Cattenhead said. "Coach Smith lives for these types of games. We live for these types of games."
Meanwhile, Neuqua Valley's players emerged from their locker room with red eyes -- only to be overwhelmed by all the hugs and high-fives from their friends and families.
"The future's bright," said sophomore center Bryce Menendez. "There's a lot more to come. This is only the beginning."
Bolingbrook's coach thought Neuqua Valley's present was pretty good.
"(Williams) has them playing hard and it seems like carefree," Smith said. "They're diving around headfirst. Grabbing, scratching, clawing. I love that team, too. That's the type of kids I like to have, too."Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.