South Elgin rallies to beat Larkin, wins 2nd straight regional crown

Overcoming adversity is a little easier when you have experience on your side.

After a regular season filled with injuries, South Elgin's girls basketball team had to overcome a halftime deficit in Thursday night's Class 4A regional championship clash with Upstate Eight Conference rival Larkin (17-14).

Senior Raina Yang scored 15 of her game-high 19 points in the second half, as the Storm (16-16) rallied for a 47-43 victory over the Royals.

South Elgin, which became the first boys or girls basketball team in school history to capture back-to-back regional titles, advances to Tuesday's Hampshire sectional semifinals against Friday's Huntley-Rockford Guilford winner.

"We've been through so much adversity this year," said Storm coach Dan Mandernack, whose team opened the season with senior veterans Zoie Lewis and Ariana Lopez sidelined with ankle injuries.

"We haven't had the whole group together often. We just kept saying, 'keep grinding, keep grinding.' They deserve this."

Larkin, led by senior center Baylei Johnson (15 points, 14 rebounds, 3 steals), grabbed a 37-36 lead in the opening minute of the fourth quarter on Johnson's 3-point play.

From there, the teams traded baskets, with Larkin freshman Mia Carter (7 points, 5 rebounds, 3 steals) tying the score at 41-all on a driving layup with 5:26 remaining.

Yang, who surpassed the 1,000-point mark for her career earlier in the season, hit a runner in the paint to give South Elgin the lead for good at 43-41 with 3:51 left.

Layups from Lewis (6 points, 10 rebounds, 4 steals) and Yang extended South Elgin's lead to 47-41 with 1:45 remaining, and the Storm defense helped secure the win with a pair of steals down the stretch.

"I just tried to make a difference and get to the basket more," said Yang, who tallied 9 points during her team's 14-8 third-quarter surge.

"She's so smart," Mandernack said of Yang. "She's been with us for four years. She's our leader. She's our quarterback. She's our everything.

"Zoie's layup and Raina's layup - those are seniors refusing to lose. They've been on the big stage before and that really showed."

Fellow seniors Caitlyn Tolentino and Chloe Kmiec chipped in with 13 and 9 points, respectively, for the Storm.

"These seniors really deserve it," said Mandernack. "Our schedule was brutal this season. It helped prepare us for this tonight."

Freshmen Sanaii McPherson and Yesenia Escobar added 9 and 8 points, respectively for the Royals, who were searching for their first regional crown since 2004.

"I think one of the biggest reasons they came out on top was that they've got experience in these types of games," said Larkin coach Stephen Knapp. "They have three senior guards who really played well, and we have three or four freshmen who haven't been in this situation.

"Plus, they're playing on their home court. I think we played them about as well as could play them tonight. It could've been ours but I think we were three or four minutes short."

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