WHEATON – Danielle Dennis had a painful first half and a frustrating second half Tuesday night.
The York star, who usually never leaves the floor, missed two minutes after getting poked in the eye in the first quarter of the Dukes’ Class 4A Wheaton Warrenville South Regional semifinal game against St. Charles North.
After overcoming that, Dennis sat out the last four minutes of the third quarter after picking up her third foul, then went to the bench for a minute in the fourth quarter when whistled for her fourth foul.
But that didn’t stop the senior guard from dominating the game. Dennis scored a game-high 19 points, including seven of York’s final nine, to go with 10 rebounds as the Dukes won 45-37.
Seventh-seeded York (19-9) will try to win its first regional title since 2009 when they take on second-seeded WW South (25-3), which beat Hoffman Estates 48-18, in Thursday’s final.
“We need [Dennis] out there for four quarters,” York coach Brandon Collings said. “If she's’s not in foul trouble, she doesn’t leave the floor.
“The amount she was out today is more than we’re used to losing our No. 1 scorer. But they didn’t have an answer for her. They didn’t have any one that could guard her.”
Well, not legally anyway. A defender accidentally knocked Dennis out of the game with the Dukes leading 8-4. When she returned, the 10th-seeded North Stars (15-13) were up 11-10.
“I got a finger jammed in my eye,” Dennis said. “It was fine; I just had to take my makeup off because it was blinding in my eye.
“It was like double vision so it was really weird. But that’s happened to me before in like fifth grade, which is crazy.”
The craziness was just getting started. The North Stars led 13-10 after the first quarter but the Dukes outscored them 20-4 in the second quarter.
Matty Stark scored eight of her nine points, including a pair of 3-pointers, while Dennis added six points and Levins, who had eight points and nine boards off the bench, tallied four.
“The second I went in there I just wanted to get at them right away because I was a little angry about the eye,” Dennis said. “That second quarter we started making shots and we became a little more confident.”
York went 7-for-14 in the second quarter, while the North Stars were 1-for-15.
“Second quarter was the difference,” St. Charles North coach Mike Tomczak said. “We went awful cold and they took advantage of it and we were kind of fighting uphill the rest of the way.”
The North Stars fought to the end, holding the Dukes scoreless for the first six minutes of the third quarter and pulling within 36-30 midway through the fourth quarter.
That’s when Dennis checked back in and immediately sank a 3-pointer off a pass from Caylin Rufus with 3:38 left. Dennis later used a great ball fake to score in transition to put the Dukes up 42-32 with 2:19 remaining.
“After halftime they really changed their pressure on us,” Dennis said. “They really came after us so we just needed to relax.
“We became more relaxed in that fourth quarter. That’s definitely what sealed the deal.”
Rufus had seven points, eight rebounds and three assists for the Dukes. Annie Tate paced the North Stars with 16 points and 12 rebounds, but senior star Anna Davern was held to eight points on 2-for-18 shooting.
“[Davern] has been our stud for a couple years now and she’s going to go down as one of the most decorated players in our school’s history,” Tomczak said. “She took quality shots; they just weren’t falling today.”