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Kerry’s late shot lifts Kaneland into sectional title game

Kaneland guard Sam Kerry missed seven of her first eight shots Tuesday in a Class 3A Sycamore sectional semifinal against the host Spartans.

The second make for the 5-foot-7 junior was one of the biggest of her career.

Kerry hit a running hook shot in the lane with less than 5 seconds left, Emily Kunzer stole the inbound pass and the Knights dropped the No. 1 Spartans, 44-41.

“We ran a play for me to get a layup and we didn’t have enough time left so I just shot it and hoped for the best,” Kerry said. “It feels amazing. It’s great.”

Sycamore (23-11) built a 37-33 lead with 4:09 left after a layup by Monroe McGhee, but Kaneland (25-9) rolled off five straight, the last three by Kunzer, to take a one-point lead.

The teams traded buckets, as there were five ties or lead changes in the final 3 minutes. McGhee put the Spartans ahead 39-38 on a layup with 1:57 left, but it was their last lead of the game. Lexi Schueler drained a 3-pointer with 1:31 left to put Kaneland up 41-39, then Megan Brannon pulled Sycamore even with 1:19 left.

But that was Sycamore’s last full possession of the game. The Knights set things up for Kerry’s late shot, and after the Kunzer steal and a Berlyn Ruh free throw put Kaneland up 44-41, Kerry intercepted the Haily Mary inbounds pass at midcourt as the buzzer sounded.

Kaneland coach Brian Claesson said with the Spartans keying on Kendra Brown and Schueler all night, they designed a play for Kerry to get a chance for the win.

“Tip your hat to Sam Kerry, it was a heck of a shot,” Sycamore coach Adam Wickness said. “I don’t know how it went in but it was a heck of a shot. She did a really great job getting it off and it was a really good play design. She just made a shot, and like I’ve been saying all year players make plays.”

Kerry finished with seven points, Schueler and Kuzner had 10 each and Brown had nine for the Knights.

There were 11 lead changes and eight ties in the game. The biggest lead for either team was when Kaneland jumped out to a 5-0 lead, matched by Sycamore when it pulled ahead 12-7 early in the second. Neither team led by four the rest of the way.

“It’s unbelievable,” Claesson said. “Our girls just played their absolute hearts out. Sycamore is such a good team. Lexi Carlsen is about as good a player as you’ll ever face. It’s a big win.”

The Knights lost both games to Sycamore this year, including a 46-25 loss in Sycamore earlier this month and a 46-45 loss to the Spartans at Kaneland. In the first loss, Sophia Klacik hit a 3-pointer with 1:26 left, giving Sycamore its first lead of the game and it was the last points for either team.

“We knew the first time that we were right there and we barely missed it,” Kerry said. “The second time we just didn’t play our best. So we knew we had a shot tonight and just gave it our all.”

Lexi Carlsen led the Spartans with 15 points, nine rebounds and three blocks. McGhee scored 14 points and no other Spartan scored more than six. The Spartans shot 2 for 17 from 3-point range, with McGhee shooting 2 for 3.

“I couldn’t even tell you the last time we shot that poorly,” Wickness said. “We’re very much a rhythm team. When we catch fire, we have the ability to catch big-time fire. Tonight was not that night.”

Wickness said it’s not often a team gets to host a sectional and Sycamore was trying to take advantage of being at home. Although the Spartans fell short, he said it was still a great season with one of the most tight-knit groups he’s ever coached.

“When you have seven seniors and kids that have been playing together since they were in the fourth grade, then you bring in some young kids and they get fully embraced, that’s a special thing,” Wickness said. “Everybody starred in their role. Everybody knew what they needed to do for our team to be successful and I thought they did it really well. They didn’t complain about it, they showed up, they had fun, we worked hard and had a great season.”

The Knights advance to face Dixon for the sectional crown. The No. 3 Duchessess were 51-47 winners over No. 1 Crystal Lake Central.

Claesson said the Knights’ two worst games this year were against Sycamore and Dixon (26-6), which beat Kaneland 55-27 on Nov. 27. Kaneland and Dixon each haven’t won sectional titles since 1990 according to IHSA records.

“We knew coming into this game it was our team versus a lot of people,” Brown said. “Just being able to play our game, no pressure on us, just have fun and play. ... Everyone says we’re the underdogs [against Dixon] so there’s no pressure on us. Playing as a team is huge right now.”

Kaneland's Berlyn Ruh celebrates a big basket during their Class 3A sectional semifinal against Sycamore Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024, at Sycamore High School.
Kaneland players celebrate their win over Sycamore in their Class 3A sectional semifinal Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024, at Sycamore High School.
The Kaneland bench celebrates as Kaneland's Emily Kunzer grabs the loose ball to seal the win over Sycamore in their Class 3A sectional semifinal Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024, at Sycamore High School.
The Kaneland bench celebrates as Kaneland's Emily Kunzer grabs the loose ball to seal the win over Sycamore in their Class 3A sectional semifinal Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024, at Sycamore High School.
Kaneland's Alexis Schueler shoots over Sycamore's Lexi Carlsen during their Class 3A sectional semifinal Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024, at Sycamore High School.
Kaneland's Sam Kerry shoots over a pair of Sycamore defenders during their Class 3A sectional semifinal Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024, at Sycamore High School.
Kaneland players celebrate their win over Sycamore in their Class 3A sectional semifinal Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024, at Sycamore High School.
Sycamore's Monroe McGhee and Kaneland's Emily Kunzer go after a loose ball during their Class 3A sectional semifinal Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024, at Sycamore High School.
Kaneland's Alexis Schueler shoots over Sycamore's Lexi Carlsen during their Class 3A sectional semifinal Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024, at Sycamore High School.
The Kaneland bench celebrates a big basket during their Class 3A sectional semifinal against Sycamore Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024, at Sycamore High School.