CHAMPAIGN — Twenty minutes into Thursday night's Battle of Champaign, the toast of the town was clearly defined.
Centennial's state-ranked Chargers bolted to a 47-7 lead en route to a 59-31 runaway against Champaign Central.
The players weren't feeling sorry for their city rivals.
"I thought, 'That's awesome,' " said Charger junior Katelynn Martinez, who had a game-high seven assists. "I didn't want us to let up. I wanted us to finish strong."
During the opening two minutes, the expected challenge appeared to be materializing. When Cheyenne Hedrington hit a shot from the lane at the 6:06 mark, it put the Maroons on top, 4-3.
Fifteen minutes later — and after a second quarter when eight of the first nine possessions were turnovers — Central scored its next basket. By then, the second-ranked (Class 3A) Chargers had surged to a 36-5 lead.
"We feel we can defend a lot of teams when we pressure the ball," Centennial coach Susan Thomas said. "When we allow guards a clear line of vision, we're pretty average.
"We talk about making teams play faster than they want, and I think we did. In the first half, I couldn't have asked for better defense."
Thomas would never have predicted such a start for her team based on Wednesday's workout.
"We didn't have a very good practice," she said.
And yet, 23 minutes into the Big 12 contest, the Maroons had made 3 of 30 field goal attempts.
"That's against what we think is a quality team," Thomas said. "We see them as one of the better teams in the conference."
The Charger scoring leader was Zsayla Brummett, who came off the bench for 10 points. Close behind were Chelsea Cross, Jasmine Kyler and Stacia Simmons, with nine points apiece.
Thomas singled out Brummett for her effort.
"What's interesting is she had her worst practice of the season Wednesday, but tonight is a sign of maturity," Thomas said. "She had her best game.
"I told the whole team, 'You'll have nights where you struggle in practice, but you have to find a way to rebound and put on a good performance in the game.' "
Brummett hit 5 of 7 shots and was the game's only double-figure scorer.
"I wanted to get the energy going," she said. "I just came in to play my game and not think about it.
"Usually, I'm not very confident, but tonight set the bar. I have lots of confidence now."
As the lead grew — the 47-7 margin was secured on a baseline jumper by Brummett at 3:48 of the third quarter — Thomas couldn't allow herself to think about the opposing team's struggles.
"It's a competition — and a rivalry game," she said. "You know someone is competing, but it's not working out for them. You can't feel bad. That would allow complacency to set in."
Central scored more than half of its points (16) in the fourth quarter. Despite the one-sided loss, Maroons coach Staci Starkweather isn't giving up on her team.
"I believe in them wholeheartedly and have full confidence in them," Starkweather said. "We have good players, and a lot of the mistakes are fixable. I believe we'll learn and get better."
Kyler cleared a game-high nine rebounds. Lauren Cloyd came off the bench for Centennial to snare eight rebounds. Central's leaders were Hedrington and Danyae Schoffner, with eight rebounds apiece, and Laura Litchfield with seven.
Hedrington and Kewanee Garrett each scored seven points for Central (12-6), which received votes in this week's Class 3A state poll.
Centennial's balanced attack featured seven players with at least six points. Thomas has come to expect such production.
"Every one of our starters have had a night where they've done something exceptional, but a majority of our games are like tonight," Thomas said. "Our kids' stats are not gaudy, but when you have people willing to sacrifice stats for the win, you're tickled as a coach."
Though it is her emphasis, she doesn't take credit for her team's unselfishness.
"The core of this team has played together a really long time, and the junior high coaches did a good job instilling the value, 'it's we, not me,' in them," Thomas said.
The rematch will take place in 13 days at Central's Combes Gym.
If there's a third meeting, it would also be at Central, which will host a Class 3A regional next month.
"Centennial was the better team tonight," Starkweather said. "They did a nice job of executing and sharing the basketball."
Simmons and Chantal Meacham each had four assists for the Chargers (17-2).