ROCKFORD – The Huntley girls basketball team expected to be tested on the perimeter against a Belvidere North squad always looking to shoot a 3-pointer.
And if the Red Raiders thought it would be an easy road through the Blue Thunder to win the regional title Thursday, Belvidere North gave them everything they could handle through the game's first 16 minutes. Huntley had a weapon of its own, however, in sophomore forward Ali Andrews, for whom the Blue Thunder had no answer .
Ali Andrews scored 15 of her game-high 21 points in the first half to help the Red Raiders take a six-point lead into halftime. From there, they steadily built a double-digit lead en route to a 49-35 win to capture the Class 4A Jefferson Regional title. It marks the sixth regional title in eight seasons for the Red Raiders (26-3), who also tied the school record for wins in a season that was set last year.
Huntley plays South Elgin in a Crystal Lake South Sectional semifinal at 6 p.m. Tuesday.
"I saw they were really packing it in down low, but I knew I had to bring my game and just play under control and play how I play," Ali Andrews said. "I also looked to kick it out to our guards to get good shots."
Belivdere North’s 3-point shooting put the pressure on Huntley in the first half. Five of the Blue Thunder’s seven field goals in the first half were 3-pointers. Guard Haley Grana especially torched Huntley’s defense, hitting three 3-pointers, all in the first quarter. Despite playing a zone defense, Andrews still hurt Belvidere North in the paint.
"She's the real deal," Blue Thunder coach Aaron Leonard said of Andrews. "You watch her play live and then you scout her, but once your team actually plays her, you realize how good she is. She has to be accounted for every single second of the game."
The Blue Thunder (14-16) briefly led by two points early in the first quarter, however, once Huntley sophomore guard Kayla Barreto made a runner in the lane to put the Red Raiders ahead, 7-5, they maintained their lead into the third quarter and never trailed.
Although Huntley led, 36-24, going into the fourth quarter, the Red Raiders managed only one field goal in the fourth. They shot well enough at the free-throw line, making 11 of 16 attempts, to comfortably maintain their lead. The Blue Thunder pulled with seven with 2:54 left in the game, but the Red Raiders held them without another field goal the rest of the way.
Senior forward Sam Andrews finished with 11 points for Huntley, including two 3-pointers, while Barreto and Bethany Zornow each finished with four points.
"It's always special to be able to win in the postseason and to win a regional title," Huntley coach Steve Raethz said. "This was a definite goal of ours heading into the postseason. I'm just really pleased for our girls. They've worked extremely hard."