Round Lake downs Wauconda for 20th victory of season

Round Lake's run to a historic season in girls basketball is being led by a pair of program-building players.

Seniors Amari Cole and Taylor Major represent the heart and soul of the program. Both are four-year varsity players, opening their Round Lake varsity career with a 20-win season.

Now, after enduring two up-and-down seasons, Cole and Major can add another 20-win season to their career accomplishments.

Cole tallied 16 points, 11 rebounds and blocked 4 shots to lift Round Lake to a 52-43 win over Wauconda on Thursday night.

The Panthers (20-3, 7-1) hit the 20-win mark for the second time in four seasons, plus took a big step toward claiming the Northern Lake Country Conference regular season title. Cole said the Panthers were motivated to atone for their 42-40 loss at Wauconda on Dec. 3. Since then, the Panthers have lost just one game, a 49-38 decision to Prairie Ridge on Dec. 21.

The Panthers extended their winning streak to eight in a row by knocking off the Bulldogs (10-8, 4-4). Cole, a 6-foot-1 center, opened the game with an impactful first quarter, amassing 5 points, 6 rebounds, two blocks and a steal to give the Panthers a 13-6 lead.

"The first quarter we had good energy and came out knowing they beat us the first time," Cole said. "We came out strong. We wanted to execute like we were the better team, and got together and played like a team and pumped up the crowd, especially in the first quarter."

Major, a point guard, made 4 free throws down the stretch to tally 14 points and 3 steals in the win.

Cole was the difference maker in the win, but junior guard Lilli Burton was a sparkplug throughout the game. She had 14 points, 7 rebounds and 6 steals to go with 2 3-pointers. Burton's 3-pointer early in the fourth quarter came in the middle of a game-turning 10-0 run that took a slim 1-point lead to a 43-32 advantage.

"My shooting is way better than the years before," Burton said. "I've become more confident over the years. I've built my confidence with driving and shooting. This was a great win for us."

The Panthers picked up contributions from nearly everyone in the rotation, with Lisette Herrera hitting a 3-pointer during the key fourth-quarter surge. Allison Dittmer provided energy and defense and tallied 3 points and Judith Cerroblanco made a key basket to tie the game at 24-24 early in the third quarter.

"This game was important to us since we lost to them the first time," Round Lake coach Molly Hennig said. "Lilli's really worked on her shot. Her defense is so good. Allison, Lisette and Judith did a lot for us. Judith hit that big shot when we were in a drought. She does a lot of little things, even screening for Amari. Lisette made the one three that pushed it further. Everyone is doing a good job contributing. That's awesome to see."

The Bulldogs nearly came back to pull off the win, especially since they trailed most of the game. Jessie Pakaski ignited the Bulldogs with her energy, tallying all 12 of her points in the second half. Kenna Wisniewski added 11 points and Grace Parker and Kaitlyn Jerard both had 8 points.

"Whenever we did some good things, we shot ourselves in the foot," Wauconda coach Jaime Dennis said. "We've been struggling with consistency for awhile. We're young. With a young team, that's what we're going to have. We've been struggling in the first quarter. We didn't shoot very well and it created a snowball effect. Our shots weren't falling and (Round Lake) wanted revenge. They played a really solid game."

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