Burlington Central coach Mark Smith planned an earlier bus departure Thursday afternoon for the championship of the Class 3A Belvidere Sectional against Rockford Lutheran.
Considering the Rockets' recent tournament history of starting slow and coming on strong the second half, along with the level of regional final opposition, an early arrival might be exactly what's needed for the 7 p.m. contest.
"We're going to get (to Belvidere) early next time, walk around the gym, just get used to things," Smith said. "When we got here (Monday) Sycamore was already on the floor warming up."
In the last two games, Central had slow starts and came from behind to win in the second half with strong defensive efforts, holding Sycamore to seven second-half points in Monday's 42-28 victory. It caused guard Aly DeTamble to refer to the Rockets as "comeback kids."
"We are going to have to stay composed the entire game, the full 32 minutes and I think we can," Rockets center Alison Colby said.
The Rockets (25-4) will have to play a full game because Rockford Lutheran (19-10) is the most explosive offensive team they've faced in this postseason.
Sophomore guard Baillie McGirk and freshman guard Kailyn Strawbridge both have plenty of speed and are slick ball handlers who set up the team's chief threat, 6-foot-2 center Abby Woolacott, very well. It's a young team, much like Central which starts four sophomores and a junior.
"We don't overlook anybody," Lutheran coach Joni Carlson said. "I mean, shoot, we start two freshmen, two sophomores and a junior. Only two of these 12 kids have ever played in a postseason before."
McGirk showed a dead eye at the line with 7-of-9 in the fourth quarter for 21 total points in a 67-57 sectional semifinal win over a 9-19 Woodstock team. Woolacott had 20 in that game and has a very good finishing touch around the basket. The Crusaders, who were third in the Big Northern West, are at their best in a full-court game when they can get their three-point offense going.
Carlson sees a lot of similarities between her club and Central, which survived despite leading scorer Samantha Pryor getting held to 13 points Monday.
"They're young also, but they've got great shooters, great ball handlers," Carlson said. "They've got a great inside game. To me they're the total package.
"They were in this positon last year, won the sectional and made it to supersectional. So they have that year experience over us, for sure."
Central is going for its second straight sectional title and third overall. The winner of Thursday's game plays the Vernon Hills-Carmel winner Monday at 6 p.m. in the Class 3A Hoffman Estates Supersectional.
Last year, Vernon Hills ended Central's season at Hoffman Estates' supersectional, then went on to take second in the state.