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Girls basketball: Aurora Christian wins first regional title

Taylor Eaves laughs as she cuts down net after AurorChristian's regional championship wThursday Wilmington.  |  John Patsch~For Sun-Times

Taylor Eaves laughs as she cuts down the net after Aurora Christian's regional championship win Thursday in Wilmington. | John Patsch~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: February 7, 2013 11:00PM

Aurora Christian girls basketball coach Jerry Tokars has been saying all season his team is a second-half team, so it seemed only natural that Thursday’s Class 2A Wilmington Regional title game against Seneca would require some second-half magic.

The Eagles were down by seven points at the half in their quest for their first regional title, but they held Seneca to 18 second-half points and pulled away in the final two minutes for a 49-43 win.

Aurora Christian advances to sectionals for the first time in program history, heading to Somonauk Monday at 6 p.m. to face Peru St. Bede in the semifinals.

“I told them all year long, this is a second-half team,” Tokars said. “They’ve done this time and time again. They stuck together, worked it out as a team and they all contributed little pieces, which is very important.”

While Aurora Christian (19-8) is accustomed to strong second halves, the 25-18 deficit at the half did concern the team.

“We were probably the most quiet we’ve ever been in the locker room,” Eagles junior Alyssa Andersen said. “It was probably hitting us, the reality of everything.”

Seneca (14-16) jumped out to a 14-6 lead early in the second quarter and held a 25-18 lead at the half. Guard Chelsie McCormick scored 17 of the Irish’s points, but Aurora Christian held her to only one point in the second half as the Eagles mounted their comeback.

A 10-2 run in the third quarter, featuring four points each from Andersen and senior Alex Hultine, helped Christian finally wrest away the lead (36-34) with 1:04 left in the quarter. But in the final second of the quarter, Andersen was called for her fourth foul, though it appeared the foul was called on the wrong player.

With their leader sitting on the bench, the Eagles had to turn up the defense to keep them in the game. By the time Andersen returned with 3:28 left in the fourth, Christian had not even attempted a field goal and turned the ball over four times on the offensive end. But Seneca only managed two points, taking a 39-38 lead.

“It was pretty hard (watching from the bench), but I trust so much in my teammates,” Andersen said. “I don’t need to put it all on me, my teammates are amazing.”

Andersen did not score the rest of the game, but with her back in the fold, the Eagles ended the game on an 11-4 run and turned it over only once the rest of the way.

“She’s a leader,” Tokars said. “She’s a captain, leading scorer. It’s like, what happens when Derrick Rose is out? It takes a while to adjust to that. But the defense got it done while she was out, that was one of the keys.”

Andersen paced the Eagles with 17 points. Hultine scored 12 points and freshman Kirsten Madsen scored seven of her nine points in the fourth quarter, including four clutch free throws in the final 20 seconds to help seal the win.

“She plays above a freshman status,” Tokars said. “She has confidence in herself and her ability.”

The Eagles had a hearty celebration after the game, accomplishing yet another goal in an historic season.

“It’s a feeling I’m unfamiliar with, obviously,” Andersen said. “It’s very cool.”

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