Come February there isn't a basketball coach around who doesn't have at least one loss they look back on as a stomach-turner, one that leaves them asking themselves again how we let that one slip away.
St. Charles North coach Colleen Brennan won't need to wait until February for that feeling after a 41-40 defeat to Johnsburg Tuesday night in the first of the North Stars' five games this season in the Sweet Sixteen tournament.
Breakdowns on both ends of the court in the final four minutes overshadowed all the good things the North Stars (5-5) did in the first 28 minutes to build a 37-28 lead against a 9-4 Johnsburg team.
"Frustrating there at the end," Brennan said. "There were some great moments there where we're a pretty difficult team to play against. Our consistent decision making skills at imperative times in the game impacted the outcome."
Sparked in part by Natalie Capone's play off the bench, the ninth player in for the North Stars who didn't enter the game until midway through the third quarter, St. Charles North turned a 26-24 deficit into that 37-28 lead. Taylor Russell scored the final two baskets freeing herself under the basket and getting feeds from Tess Fischer and Capone.
Unfortunately for St. Charles North, over the next four minutes almost everything that could go wrong did.
• The North Stars twice lost Melissa Dixon, whose 23 points accounted for over half the Skyhawks offense. Dixon buried a pair of 3-pointers to quickly trim the lead.
"We pulled it together at the end and played good defense," said Davis, who scored 15 of her points on 3-pointers. "We had really good momentum there."
• Still leading 40-37, the North Stars turned the ball over on three straight possessions. The most critical came on Morgan Berge's steal with just over a minute to go that she converted into a layup on the other end to make it a 40-39 game.
"They were pressuring the ball well and waiting for us to make mistakes and taking advantage of them," Brennan said. "If we are going to pass the ball in a place for the other team to come up with it they will and they did."
• After the third straight turnover the Skyhawks had the ball with 40 seconds to go but still behind by a point when the North Stars fouled Dixon 25 feet from the basket. Dixon hit both ends of the 1-and-1 to put Johnsburg ahead 41-40.
• With 40 seconds left and a chance to regain the lead, St. Charles North had all kinds of trouble getting into its offense.
Brennan called one timeout with 20 seconds left but the North Stars again struggled getting anything going toward the basket. With the ball near half-court and the clock about to tick down to zero without even attempting a shot Brennan called another timeout with just 3 seconds remaining.
This time the North Stars got the ball in Fischer's hands whose 18-footer from the baseline hit off the rim as time expired.
"Some of our offense wasn't there the whole game," North Stars senior Sydney Russell said. "You get those days when shots don't go in. They kept their composure and we didn't but we still worked hard out there."
The North Stars held Johnsburg to 13-of-52 shooting (25 percent) from the field in their first game back after a nine-day break.
"The team joke beforehand was 'What's a game feel like,'" Russell said. "Throughout those nine days we worked really hard and we were excited to play. For having nine days off we looked pretty good."
"We definitely made a lot of growth in our break off which I'm excited about," Brennan said. "It's just our decision making skills at the end were not very good."
The North Stars led 22-16 at halftime behind Fischer's 10 points. She finished with a team-high 12 followed by Taylor Russell with 8. Capone had 4 points and an assist in her eight minutes off the bench.
"I'm proud of them even on a bad night we were able to pull it out," Johnsburg coach Mike Toussaint said. "It was a good finish. St. Charles North is a good team."