Warren junior guard Cheyenne Fitts could not believe what landed in her hands near the end of the first half of a Warren Blue Devil Classic girls basketball game Tuesday afternoon.
The ball did, with about three seconds left.
Near her knees.
Fitts had positioned her 5-foot-5 frame in an ideal spot for the offensive rebound against Palatine. She then netted a put-back bucket -- her only 2 points of the game -- to trim the Pirates' lead to 21-18.
"I faked a move (in the lane), and then I went around a girl, just like I always try to do in practice," Fitts said after Warren's 49-31 win. "The ball came right to me. I put it up. I got lucky."
Her coach, John Stanczykiewicz, didn't see it that way. He lauded the smallest player on the court for coming up big as the clock raced toward 0:00 in the second quarter.
"I'm a big hockey fan, and in hockey, when a player does something significant at the end of a period, it gives the entire team a psychological boost for the start of the next period," Stanczykiewicz said. "Cheyenne made a good, alert play there at the end of the first half, and it gave us such a spark."
A wildfire ensued. Warren (5-8, 2-1 in tourney games) outscored Palatine 15-0 in the third quarter to secure a comfy 33-21 lead. Warren, playing without a senior in 2010-11, also outrebounded Palatine7-1 in the period. Blue Devils freshman guard/forward Cassie Christie, making only her second start, scored 7 of her 13 points in the third quarter, including the first 5 (field goal, trey) in the first 2:51. Christie nailed another 3-pointer in the fourth quarter.
"I had a rough first half, was a little nervous about starting," the rookie admitted. "But I received so much support from my coach and my teammates throughout the second half. And it helped hearing what my dad (Mark) had to say from the stands. He reminded me, 'Play your game.' A big part of my game is passing."
One of Christie's sharp passes in the third quarter was an assist to junior guard Alexis Leneau (8 points, 5 assists). Christie (3 assists, 2 rebounds) had pulled down an offensive board right before the feed.
"Cassie took advantage of opportunities after the half," Stanczykiewicz said. "She's getting more comfortable, gaining a lot of confidence. Adjustments have to be made when someone that young plays at this kind of level, and she's making those. She's been adjusting well to the speed and physical aspects of varsity basketball."
Palatine (also 5-8 and 2-1 in Classic contests) went up 8-4 on a put-back by junior forward Katelyn Mayer (team-high 8 points). Warren's Taylor Cotey and Amanda Barger (5 points, 5 assists), celebrating her 17th birthday Tuesday, each connected from 3-point real estate in the final 2:04 of the first quarter.
The Pirates held the hosts to 8 points in the second quarter; Blue Devils 6-3 junior center Jessica Prince (game highs of 14 points and 5 boards) scored 6 of them.
Palatine didn't tally its first point in the second half until junior reserve guard Laura Schweikert (7 points) hit a free throw at 6:52 of the fourth quarter.
"Huge disappointment," Pirates coach Leslie Schock said. "Warren came out and played with a purpose in the second half; we did not. I was hoping we'd play the entire game like we did in the first half."
Warren's birthday girl preferred giving to receiving on the court Tuesday, particularly in the second half. Barger delivered assists on the Blue Devils' final three field goals, with a Barger steal preceding the penultimate one.
(She did open a gift before the game: Bulls tickets, for a Jan. 1 game against Cleveland.)
"What I really liked about Amanda's play today was her defense in the second half," Stanczykiewicz said. "She played under control. For the first time in a win this season, I felt the team -- our entire team --was in control throughout most of the game. It was a nice feeling. It also was nice seeing so many smiles after the game.
"Palatine," he added, "plays in such a tough, competitive league (MSL), and the league's teams are all well-coached. They all play physical basketball, and most have decent shooters. We had concerns before today's game."
Palatine's Katie Scovic (5 points) and Lauren Radtke (4 points) each came down with 4 rebounds.