CARY – Upstairs or downstairs, it didn't matter where Crystal Lake Central was playing Thursday.
With what coach Derek Crabill called his team's best defensive effort of the season, the No. 4-seeded Tigers upset top-seeded Dundee-Crown, 48-39, to capture the Class 4A Cary-Grove Regional championship.
The Tigers move on to play Hononegah, ranked seventh in Class 4A, at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in a Belvidere North Sectional semifinal.
Central (17-11) last won a regional in 2009, and the 4A title is the first in program history.
"I've been a part of this program for four years, and I honestly never thought this was an achievable goal," said Maddie Haslow, who played on a two-win Tigers team as a freshman.
"After these past couple of years of hard work, it started to become clear that we're able achieve these goals. It feels amazing to actually do it."
A relentless press from the Tigers' defense forced the Chargers into 14 first-half turnovers, holding the Fox Valley Conference runner-up to 12 points on 5-of-24 shooting. The Tigers led, 17-12, at halftime, and pushed their lead to as many as 17 points in the second half.
Megan Wozniak connected on back-to-back buckets inside, Haslow sank a 3-pointer from 25 feet, and Nora Ryan had a three-point play to give Central a 33-16 advantage with 3:11 left in the third quarter.
With 58.6 seconds left in the third and Central up 35-24, a leak in the ceiling stopped play and forced the game to be moved from the downstairs gym to upstairs. Even with a new venue, the Tigers continued to roll.
"We told each other that, even though it's a different gym, we have to bring the same energy," said senior guard Emma Fleming, who led all scorers with 15 points on 5-of-10 shooting, adding four steals.
"With two minutes left, I knew we had it."
Ryan (six rebounds) and Wozniak tallied eight points apiece for the Tigers, and Cori Hamill added six points, three assists and three steals. Central made 10 straight free throws between the third and fourth quarters.
D-C coach Sarah Miller thought her team was playing too fast at times, leading to turnovers.
"I really felt like Central came out strong and played with a lot of confidence," Miller said. "It's a heartbreaker because I don't think they changed much of what they do when we played them the first two times. We underperformed. We looked like we played scared a little bit, and I know we're not a scared team. I don't believe my players are fearful in any way."
Alyssa Crenshaw led the Chargers (23-9) with 13 points and eight rebounds, Payton Schmidt and Gianine Boado had eight points apiece, and Katelyn Skibinski tossed in seven.
Crabill, who took over three years ago, didn't know the last time Central won a regional title. He didn't want to.
"Our saying for the last couple of years has been, 'Be us,'" Crabill said. "I didn't want to get caught up in the history of it, just play our game and be us. Most of these kids I've coached, at least at some point, since sixth grade. They have really become a part of our family.
"Man ... it feels good."
STAR OF THE GAME
Emma Fleming, Crystal Lake Central, sr., G
Fleming had a game-high 15 points on 5-of-10 shooting, adding four steals.
10: Years since Central's last regional title (2009)
AND ANOTHER THING …
Fourth-seeded Central will play No. 2 Hononegah in a Class 4A Belvidere North Sectional semifinal at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Class 4A Cary-Grove Regional
Crystal Lake Central 48, Dundee-Crown 39
CRYSTAL LAKE CENTRAL (48): Hamill 2 2-3 6, Ryan 1 6-9 8, Keller 1 2-2 4, Penza 1 0-0 2, Fleming 5 3-6 15, Wozniak 3 2-2 8, Haslow 1 0-0 3, Geske 1 0-0 2. Totals: 15 15-22 48.
DUNDEE-CROWN (39): Schmidt 3 0-0 8, Skibinski 3 0-1 7, Kieltyka 1 1-2 3, Crenshaw 5 3-3 13, Boado 3 0-0 8. Totals: 15 4-6 39.
Crystal Lake Central 7 10 20 11 – 48
Dundee-Crown 7 5 15 12 – 39
3-point goals: Crystal Lake Central 3 (Fleming 2, Haslow), Dundee-Crown 5 (Schmidt 2, Boado 2, Skibinski). Total fouls: Crystal Lake Central 16, Dundee-Crown 17.