Woodstock girls enjoying unlikely playoff run

The Woodstock girls basketball team was less than one minute away from seeing its season end in its playoff opener against Woodstock North.

What transpired from there – a double-overtime comeback win in the regional quarterfinal – propelled the Blue Streaks into rare company in their program’s history. Woodstock, seeded fifth out of six teams in the regional, turned that momentum into two upset wins against top-seeded Marian Central in the regional semifinal and No. 2-seeded Richmond-Burton in the final to capture the regional title.

“We realize if we didn’t win we weren’t going to have a second chance,” Brand said. “For the seniors, we realized this was it. We had a lot more heart. ... We’ve been on roll.”

It’s only the fourth regional title in program history and just the second since 1990, according to coach Marty Hammond said.

“It’s surreal,” senior guard Megan Pautrat said of winning the regional title. “It doesn’t feel like it actually happened.”

The Blue Streaks, one of only three McHenry County teams still in the playoffs, face Rockford Lutheran in a Class 3A Belvidere Sectional semifinal at 8 p.m. Monday. Although Woodstock owns a 9-18 record this season, nine of the Blue Streaks’ losses have been decided by five points or less. Closing out games has been the big issue for them, but since the playoffs began, they have found an ability to put it all together.

“The kids competed in every single game this year, we just came out on the short end a few times more than we wanted,” Hammond said. “Not one time did the girls give up during the season, and when we walked into the regional itself, they kind of challenged themselves.”

Being given the fifth seed in the regional didn’t sit well with the Blue Streaks, and they were eager to prove they were better than that number. Hammond said his team was “disgusted by the whole ranking system.” It served as extra motivation for the Blue Streaks.

Pautrat said revenge also was on their minds going into the regional after losses this season to both Woodstock North and R-B.

“Our mentality is just go out strong,” Pautrat said. “It’s just like any other game. We still have a lot of pressure on us because we don’t want the season to be over yet. I think that we just have to go out and play like we would against any other team.”

Woodstock’s competitive desire has stood out to Hammond during his team’s unexpected playoff run. Led by five seniors, the Blue Streaks embraced the challenge of taking on those supposedly better, higher-ranked teams.

The emergence of getting contributions from different players has been a key to Woodstock’s success. Junior forward Selena Juarez has provided solid defense and has emerged as a great option on offense to complement the outside shooting of sophomore guard Grace Beattie and Pautrat. Senior forward Cody Brand has anchored Woodstock with her team-leading 11.6 points a game.

“I believe that the trust in themselves and each other has been a huge tool for them,” Hammond said. “If one girl has a bad game, they feel like someone else is going to pick them up, whether it be (Gabby) Scolio’s defensive ability or Brecken (Overly’s) ball-handling ability or Pautrat’s tenacious defense. All those factors are a huge step for us.”

To win Monday against Rockford Lutheran and advance to the sectional final in pursuit of their school’s first sectional title, the Blue Streaks will need to rely on what got them to this point.

“It’s going to take tenacious defense and playing under control, limiting turnovers and not backing down from pressure,” Hammond said. “Walking into this sectional a few weeks back we would be very hesitant. But right now I think the kids have a lot of confidence in their game and in our team and I think they fully believe we’re going to be the sectional champion.”