While St. Charles East's next game at the Schaumburg Thanksgiving Tournament is against three-time defending state champion Montini, you can't blame the Saints for being glad it's anyone but the host Saxons.
St. Charles East ended last season watching Schaumburg erase a 3-point deficit in the final two minutes in the regional semifinals. The Saxons did it to the Saints again Tuesday in the sesaon-opener for both teams, coming from 11 down in the third quarter, then closing the game on a 17-4 surge for a 66-58 victory.
Amanda Kelly hit the shot that put Schaumburg (1-0) ahead to stay, a 3-pointer from the left corner with 3:27 remaining after Riley Williams found her in transition.
Kelly scored a game-high 20 points and said it was the Saxons' work on the other end that made the difference.
"We had better defensive pressure," Kelly said. "Defense is our key and we just weren't doing it in the first half. We knew our pressure wasn't good and coach really got on us about it."
After scoring 16, 17 and 18 points in the first three quarters, St. Charles East (0-1) managed just 8 in the final one.
After Amanda Hilton's layup on an assist from Kyra Washington put the Saints ahead 54-49 with five minutes remaining, the Saxons allowed just 2 more baskets and iced the game at the line making 6 of 6 free throws in the final 54.4 seconds. Williams also hit a key 3-pointer with 1:38 to go that opened up a 4-point lead.
"It's first-game jitters, things might get a little sloppy but I was pleased with their resilience, their ability to fight back," Saxons coach Ashley Berggren said. "We talked about trusting the offense and talked about the importance of setting good screens and making good cuts. No matter what the play is or offense it is, if you do those things shots will be created from them."
After the Saxons grabbed an early 7-2 lead, the Saints battled through a back-and-forth first half to lead 16-14 after one quarter and 33-32 at halftime.
Carly Pottle scored 10 points for St. Charles East in the third quarter including back-to-back putbacks that gave the Saints their biggest lead at 48-37.
"I started driving and it worked," said Pottle, who stands 5-foot-5 and is one of the undersized Saints doing their best on the boards. "We're a small team so we have to be aggressive to get the ball."
The Saxons ended the third quarter on a 10-2 run to pull within 50-47 going to the fourth. In the final 40 seconds when the Saints could have held for one shot they instead missed once and turned the ball over twice to give Schaumburg six quick points and the momentum.
"When you do have a lead, you don't come down and jack up a shot or don't even pass and put up a shot," Saints coach Lori Drumtra said. "I think we need to play a little smarter when we have a lead."
Drumtra also pointed to resting Washington as a turning point in the third quarter.
"Kyra has to get a break but boy does that make a difference on the court," Drumtra said. "She does so many things that don't show up in the stats. She's such a presence in the lane. We have to figure out a way that we don't lose so much when she comes out of a game. That's going to be a challenge for us."
Williams scored 14 points, Carly Brossard 13 and Jada Blackwell 11 giving the Saxons four players in double figures.
"At any night right now we have players who can step up which is great to see," Berggren said.
Paige Jordan led the Saints with 15 points. Pottle scored 14, Hilton 12 and Washington 8.