Chargers girls in control from opening tip
CHAMPAIGN — Centennial’s Chargers made certain there was no re-enactment of their 2012 regular season showing at Central’s Combes Gym.
A year ago, coach Susan Thomas’ state-ranked team stumbled against its crosstown rival, losing by four.
“To have that poor of a performance was one of their biggest regrets of the year,” Thomas said.
The Chargers came full circle Tuesday, registering what is one of their top efforts in a season where they climbed to No. 3 in the Class 3A state rankings that were issued earlier in the day. Centennial hit all five three-point shots it attempted, scored the game’s first 11 points and committed just three turnovers in the middle two quarters against the Maroons en route to a 76-40 runaway against a short-handed Central team.
“I’m glad we had a couple of good practices coming into this,” Centennial senior center Chelsea Cross said.
“We played together. This was a great win.”
Cross scored the game’s first six points. Central never led and trailed by at least 10 points the final 28:54. The Chargers’ lead grew to 41 points (70-29) on a three-pointer by reserve Corey Bilger with 6:10 left.
The play of the non-starters was one of many bright spots for Thomas. Jasmine Kyler came off the bench and nearly produced a double-double, scoring 12 points and grabbing nine rebounds.
“We have very good production off the bench, which we haven’t had the last two years,” Thomas said.
Junior Zsayla Brummett is the first sub off the bench.
“Brummett would start for any other team in the (Big 12) conference and might be their No. 1 option,” Thomas said.
It’s hard to find a spot in Centennial’s lineup. Starters Cross, Katelynn Martinez and Chantal Meacham made a combined 16 of 19 shots at Central. Cross was 9 for 10.
“Their depth is pretty unique, especially at this level,” Central coach Martin Pazanin said. “It helps keep their players fresh, too.”
Cross said the team realizes there will be no dropoff when substitutes are summoned.
“It’s not just the five of us (starters),” Cross said. “We have a whole bunch who can come in, and we’re not worried they won’t play with the same intensity.”
Thirteen Centennial players reached the scoring column, and 12 had rebounds.
“What won the game,” Thomas said, “was that we didn’t force anything. We were deliberate with our offense, read the defense and took what was given.”
She was particularly pleased that after spending practice time Monday working against a zone defense, the Chargers (16-2) didn’t miss a beat when Central came out in a man-to-man.
“I saw them making the adjustments on their own without us calling a timeout to break things down,” Thomas said. “They have that understanding and feel of the game.”
Central (11-7) was without Meme Evans, who had a season-high 22 points Saturday. She is away from the team this week while participating in an all-state drama production.
In her absence, Laura Litchfield had game-high totals of 22 points and 11 rebounds, though her final 10 points came in the fourth quarter after Thomas had removed all of her starters.
Pazanin said Centennial’s years of experience show. The current senior group is closing in on its fourth consecutive 20-win varsity season. Cross, Martinez and Meacham all played varsity as freshmen.
“They’ve played together for so long, and you can tell,” Pazanin said. “They pass so well. They’re so crisp.”
Martinez finished with 12 points for the Chargers. Stacia Simmons had seven and energized a third-quarter blitz when Centennial outscored Central 26-10.
“Transitionwise, we opened things up in the third quarter,” Thomas said. “That has been a point of emphasis in practice for two weeks.”