BOURBONNAIS — For the third consecutive year, the Minooka Indians girls basketball team entered a regional title game. For the third straight year, the Indians leave victorious, this after a 41-33 victory over the host Bradley-Bourbonnais Boilermakers Thursday night — sending Minooka to the sectional tournament next week at Normal West High School.
For the second year in a row, the Indians came in with a losing record, but also on a hot streak heading into the postseason. Having to play three games in four days, this one proved to be extra special for Minooka, who improves to 14-17 with the victory.
"I told the girls before the regional started that as an 11-17 team, people weren't going to give you a lot of credit," Minooka coach Ray Liberatore said. "So to come out here and win this one really shows the character and toughness of our seniors."
Minooka did it with defense, Thursday, as they held the Lady Boilermakers to just two points in the second quarter, this after going down 10-8 after the first eight minutes of action.
"I think our team works hard and we didn't let them catch the ball easily on defense tonight," freshman Sydney Arlis said, who finished with eight points on the night. "They really weren't able to take any easy shots on us all night tonight."
"In order to get that plaque, you have to play good defense," Liberatore added. "And I think our girls did a great job of that tonight, especially in the second quarter."
Arlis, along with senior Larissa McClemen, led the way offensively for the Indians. McClemen had a huge game, as her 14 points and 9 rebounds paced Minooka from the opening tip.
"I felt like I really had to step it up and really work for it tonight," McClemen said. "We as a team were really able to get good shots and control the game."
After taking a 20-12 lead into the half, the Indians came out even stronger in the third, building their lead up to 13. They ultimately took a 31-20 lead into the fourth, which is where Bradley-Bourbonnais turned it on.
With their season on the line, the Boilers rallied, eventually cutting it to a slim 37-33 lead for the Indians late in the third. In the end, though, the deficit was too much to overcome, as key free throws from senior Sydney Lilly and sophomore Kelly Carnagio iced the game for Minooka, giving them the regional victory.
"I can't say enough about Sydney Lilly," Liberatore said. "We ask her to do so much as a point guard as well as Sam Wurtz, who came back from an ACL injury and has given us some quality minutes this year."
This is the third straight regional championship for the lady Indians, as they continue on the recent success this program has had. Before their first of the three regional wins in 2011, Minooka hadn't won a regional since 1980, so three in a row is something of a rarity for the Indians.
"It feels great," as McClemen simply put it.
"I'm glad for the seniors and I really wanted to make it memorable for the seniors," Arlis added. "It was a really great win for us."
Now with another regional title under their belt, Minooka heads to the sectional tournament at Normal West, looking to take it another step and win at least one sectional game.
"Obviously when you get to sectionals, the team you're going to play is going to be very good," Liberatore said. "We have to play better than we have already, but were ready for the challenge."