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Aurora Central handles pressure, Rosary for 1st title
By Craig Brueske | Daily Herald Correspondent
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Published: 2/18/2011 1:54 AM

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One by one, the jubilant players took turns cutting down the net while fans snapped pictures off as fast as they possibly could.

For the first time in the 36-year history of the program, Aurora Central Catholic's girls basketball team can call itself a regional champion after Thursday's pressure-packed, 49-45 victory over Rosary (12-15) in the IMSA Class 3A regional title clash in Aurora.

"They absolutely refused to lose," said Chargers coach Mark Fitzgerald. "What an effort. They would not be denied. They didn't do it offensively but they sure did it defensively tonight."

Despite being held without a single fourth-quarter basket, top-seeded Aurora Central Catholic (19-9) hung on to a razor-thin lead down what had to be an agonizingly long stretch in the final minutes.

"It was slow motion," Fitzgerald said of the clock. "I didn't think it was ever going to end. It was gut-check time."

Third-seeded Rosary, which trailed by as many as 9 in the second half, closed to within 4 on three separate occasions in the fourth quarter the last time being 47-43 after senior guard Brenda Rocha (13 points, 9 rebounds, 3 steals) split a pair of free throws with 26 seconds remaining.

But Chargers junior guard Jacquie Cardona, who poured in a game-high 22 points, answered with 2 clutch free throws to put the finishing touch on a historical and hysterical night for ACC.

"This is really amazing because we haven't ever won regionals before," said Cardona, who was forced to the bench briefly in the final minute after being fouled and landing awkwardly near the free-throw line.

"It's hard to explain," Cardona said of her team's regional championship accomplishment. "I really wanted it bad for our team."

Cardona certainly made sure Aurora Central got off to a good start, as she scored 6 points during the Chargers' 10-0 surge at the game's outset.

"We wanted to go out hard and fast," said Cardona, whose team opened a 19-10 first-quarter advantage.

"They were loose," said Fitzgerald. "They knew it was their night."

Rosary, which never led, went on a 12-1 early in the second quarter to close the gap to 21-20 on an offensive rebound putback by Rocha.

Once again, however, Cardona answered the call with a pair of inside baskets as Aurora Central scored 7 of the next 8 points to open a 28-21 lead.

The Chargers might have pulled away in the second half if they had made a few more free throws. Aurora Central, which finished 19-for-38 (50 percent) at the line for the game, made just 9 of 21 second-half foul shots.

"We got a little rattled in terms of missing free throws but they made them in the end," said Fitzgerald.

Ashley Wilk had 9 points and a game-high 13 rebounds, while Kaitlyn Rosa added 8 points and 8 rebounds for the Chargers, who will face either Belvidere North (19-8) or Marengo (13-14) in Monday's Burlington Central sectional semifinals.

"This win tonight is for the girls on my first team," said Fitzgerald. "They only won three games but they started this whole 'we believe' thing. They started the mojo going that was followed by last year's 13-win team and now this group right here."

Breann Maryanski had 10 points and 9 rebounds for the Royals, who suffered a 64-54 loss to ACC earlier in the season.

"I don't think our kids lacked effort but we dug ourselves a little bit too deep of a hole," said Rosary coach Dave Beebe.

"The last time we lost to these guys, it didn't look like we were going to win any in a row. We won six in a row to get to this point."