Round Lake claims NLCC title outright

With the Northern Lake County Conference girls basketball championship on the line, there was a lot of pressure on host Grayslake Central and Round Lake when they took the court Tuesday night.

The visiting Panthers got off to a slow start as the Rams built a 6-2 lead after one quarter, and a 13-9 lead at halftime of the pressure-packed defensive struggle.

But even with 6-foot-1 senior Amari Cole on the bench due to foul trouble much of the game, Round Lake (26-3, 13-1) did not want to share the NLCC title with Grayslake Central (13-16, 11-3).

A 15-point run to end the third quarter gave the Panthers their biggest lead at 24-18 before they barely held on down the stretch to post a 29-28 victory and win the NLCC crown outright over the pesky Rams.

Guard Taylor Major was a huge factor for Round Lake with 9 of her game-high 16 points in the second half while teammate Lilli Burton really came alive in the second half to finish with 10 points.

"The first half we were off, the second half was an amazing half and I'm super-proud of them," said Major. "It was just communication and teamwork 100 percent. We had good ball movement and executed."

Trailing 18-9 early in the third quarter and looking like they were almost down and out, two free throws by Major started Round Lake's 15-0 run as her and Burton combined for all 15 points during the Panthers' huge momentum changer. Burton's 3-pointer with nine seconds left in the third quarter really put the Rams behind the eight-ball.

"I thought we kind of let them dictate too much of that third quarter when they got on that run," said Grayslake Central coach Steve Ikenn. "To Round Lake's credit they took full advantage. (Round Lake coach) Molly (Hennig) does a nice job with them. They made some key shots, and we had a few too many turnovers."

The Rams did not go away easily at all as Carissa Guerrier (team-high 9 points) scored on her own rebound before wide-open teammate Piper Gallaher scored on a layup to tie the game at 28-28 with 2:16 to play.

A free throw by Round Lake's Allison Dittmer proved to be the winning point with 1:58 remaining as neither team scored the rest of the way. Dittmer also had a huge steal with 52 seconds left.

The Rams had the ball with 4.1 seconds to go, but Cole stole a pass as time expired to set off a wild celebration on the court by the Panthers. Round Lake last won the North Suburban Conference Prairie Division in 2009.

"(Major) wanted this game more than anybody in the gym. She came back from her ACL injury, and she's worked so hard," said Hennig. "I'm really proud of them, it's been such a special season, and this caps it off for them."

Madison Hoffmann and Gallaher scored 6 points apiece for the Rams in the contest as they outscored the Panthers 10-5 in the fourth quarter.

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