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L-W Central tops Sandburg in regional title game

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By Randy Whalen
Correspondent

Sandburg won 20 games for the first time in in six years, and entered the postseason seeking to add to its list of accomplishments by winning a regional championship on its home court.

But Lincoln-Way Central made more plays in key situations and fought to a 55-47 double-overtime victory in the title game of the Class 4A Sandburg Regional.

The Knights’ Azyah Newsome-Cole scored a career-high 27 points and came up huge down the stretch. The junior guard scored 15 of her points in the fourth quarter and overtimes, and propelled Central to (22-8) its first regional championship since 2008 (21-8).

The Eagles (20-11) worked hard all season and registered their first 20-win campaign since 2014-15, when they went 24-8. That was also the last time they won a regional.

“This group is super competitive and I’m so proud of them,” Sandburg coach Nick Fotopoulos said. “They changed the culture around here.”

The past three seasons have produced records of 19-12, 11-6 and 20-11.

In the regional final, missed opportunities doomed the Eagles. A 10-for-26 showing from the free-throw line, including two misses that could have all but iced the game, was essentially the difference between a win and a loss.

“We had two chances to win it from there but weren’t able to do it,” Fotopoulos sad. “Still, the girls pushed so hard and left everything on the court.

“We had seven seniors and we came together, and this was the best group in my six years. They really worked hard, were big leaders and are going to do awesome things going forward.”

Sandburg led 31-26 after three quarters, but Newsome-Cole scored seven points in the fourth to help rally the Knights to a 41-38 lead. The Eagles’ forced overtime by scoring the final three points of regulation, including senior guard Danielle Antoine hitting the second of two free throws with 1.6 seconds left to tie the game.

Sandburg could have taken the lead with 5.1 seconds to play in overtime, but missed the front end of a one-and-one.

In the second overtime, Newsome-Cole scored the first three points as the Knights opened with a 5-0 run and took control.

Erin O’Connor had 13 points, 18 rebounds and seven assists and fellow senior Charlotte Trunk had 11 points and 10 rebounds to lead Sandburg. Both O’Connor and Trunk fouled out in the second overtime.

Senior forward Lauren Couglan and junior guard Josie Canellis each added seven points for the Eagles.

“Erin and I gave it our all but it wasn’t enough in the end,” said Trunk, who will play softball for the Eagles in the spring but has not decided if she will play in college. “I think when we fouled out, we looked at each other on the bench and we just knew it was over. It was hard and it goes by so fast.

“We had multiple opportunities but it doesn’t fall on one person. I think it was our main goal to get Sandburg basketball back. There are seven of us leaving but I hope the girls coming in build off of this and win a regional.”

“We really wanted a regional title,” said O’Connor, who will play soccer in the spring for the Eagles but isn’t playing sports in college. “But honestly, I couldn’t ask for a better game. We played our hearts out but our free throws weren’t falling, and we were playing hard on defense but our shots weren’t falling.

“Playing my last game as a senior, playing with many of these girls who I played together with since I was 5 years old. It’s hard to believe it’s over. Still, it was a great season and I couldn’t be any more proud of this team.”

The game figured to be close throughout after the teams split a pair of regular-season meetings. Central won the Sandburg Holiday Classic with a 54-49 victory on Dec. 29. The Eagles won the first matchup, 42-37, on Dec. 16 in New Lenox.

The Eagles advanced to the regional championship game with a 57-37 win over District 230 rival Andrew. Trunk led all scorers with 21 points. Antoine and O’Connor each added 10 points for the Eagles.

Antoine, Lauren Coghlan, Maddie Coghlan, O’Connor, Payton Prodohel, Trunk, and Sydney Vrdolyak were the team’s seven seniors.

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