FRANKFORT | The turnaround was thorough.
For much of the first half Thursday night, Lincoln-Way East was controlling the tempo of the Class 4A regional final on its home court. The Blazing Trojans of Bloom Township, quicker to the ball and to the basket, were nonetheless playing the Griffins' game.
"At halftime, I gave them a talking to," Trojans coach Ron Newquist said. "The first half, we weren't playing defense like we'd worked on it. We weren't talking to each other."
The message sunk in.
In the final 16 minutes, Bloom outrebounded Lincoln-Way East 17-6 and came back from a five-point deficit to score a 41-34 victory for its first girls regional championship in 14 years.
Bloom senior Bria Gaines was just starting pre-school then. Thursday, she schooled the Griffins, scoring 11 points and pulling down 14 rebounds -- three off her career high -- in helping lead Bloom into sectional competition.
"The feeling is incredible," Gaines said. "Never in a million years did I think we'd get to a sectional when I was a freshman."
Sophomore Danielle King was just graduating from diapers in 1999, when that last regional title was claimed. She paced the Trojans (21-6) with 12 points, and frustrated the Griffins with her six steals.
"We needed to open up the floor to get the ball to Bria," King said of the big change in the second half.
That worked. So did the Trojans, continually, on defense. Lanes to the basket that had been open in the early going shut down completely.
East (20-9) made only three field goals in the second half, and managed only a dozen shots while turning the ball over nine times.
"When we play defense, we win games," Newquist said. "We clamped down on defense and controlled the boards. I know Jim (Martin, the Griffins' coach) wanted the game in the 30s. If it got into the 50s, they couldn't win."
So Bloom played Lincoln-Way's defensive game in the second half, and it worked. Freshman Claire McMahon, the Griffins' leading scorer, had 11 points.
The Trojans will meet Marian Catholic in Tuesday's sectional semifinal at Mother McAuley. At it happens, Newquist is a Marian graduate, while the rest of his family went to Bloom.
"This (regional title) is special to the Bloom community," Newquist said. "Some schools line them up. For us, not too much. This is big for the school."