OGLESBY — Elgin Community College sophomore Carly Saraceno and her teammates weren’t sure how to react Saturday.
They had, after all, just made school history with a 50-47 victory over Kishwaukee in the Region IV Division II District L championship game at Illinois Valley Community College to send the Spartans to the NJCAA National Tournament for the first time.
“It’s pretty amazing,” Saraceno said. “I’m kind of speechless. This is the farthest any team has gotten at ECC so we’re all obviously so excited. We didn’t know whether to cry, laugh or celebrate. We’re just excited, but we have to stay focused for next week at nationals.”
The Spartans (26-6) will play in the national tournament March 19-23 at Illinois Central College in East Peoria.
“(No ECC team) has ever been there male or female, so this is like we’re setting history,” said ECC coach Jerry McLaughlin, who was named Region IV Coach of the Year. “This is unbelievable. I’m really proud of everybody. The school came and supported us. It’s just an awesome feeling.”
The No. 3-seeded Spartans punched their ticket to East Peoria by upsetting the No. 1-seeded Kougars (26-7), who defeated Elgin 63-41 in December.
“The last time we played them it was the beginning of the season,” Saraceno said. “We weren’t in rhythm. Now after all these games we played together, we know our strengths and weaknesses, and we used those to our advantage and just played our game. We didn’t let them get in our heads and just stayed focused.”
Elgin struggled in the first half — shooting just 34.6 percent from the field and 0-of-10 from 3-point range — but managed to stay close and trailed 27-23 at halftime.
Saraceno, a Downers Grove South product, finally found her shooting rhythm and drained a game-tying 3-pointer with 12:47 left. She hit another with 8:32 left for a 44-39 ECC lead.
The Spartans led until Kishwaukee’s Alexis McClain hit a 3-pointer for a 47-46 Kougar lead with 5:05 left.
From there, Elgin clamped down on defense and did not allow another point, and Saraceno gave ECC the victory with a pair of free throws with 1:51 left and another pair with 20.3 seconds remaining.
“Carly’s free throws were huge,” McLaughlin said. “She didn’t have a good first half. I told her just to go play basketball. She was unbelievable in the second half. She hit two big 3s and the free throws. She was awesome.”
Saraceno finished with 12 points as did Region IV Tournament MVP Gianina Estocado from Hampshire. All-tournament selection Alex Dumoulin of Hampshire finished with 13 points and 14 rebounds.Copyright © 2013 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.