It may be a little too early in the season to call it a turnaround game, but the young Bartlett girls basketball team came of age just a little bit Thursday night.
The Hawks got ahead, fell behind, then got ahead again and hung on for dear life at the end before coming away with a 53-50 Upstate Eight Valley win at South Elgin.
"We showed some poise," said Hawks' coach Denise Sarna, who lost her top eight player to graduation from a 32-2 team that took third in Class 4A last season. "We haven't been in that situation. It was a good team effort and I'm proud of them."
Junior guard Ashley Johnson, who had missed the front end of two one-and-bonus situations, nailed 4 of 4 from the free throw line in the game's final 23 seconds to help the Hawks (5-5, 2-1) gain a tough road win.
"My coach told me a joke and helped me calm down a bit," said Johnson, who finished with 11 points. "I knew I had to make those and keep us up by at least three."
The seesaw affair saw Bartlett jump ahead 15-10 after one quarter before the Storm (5-4, 1-1) came charging back to take a 28-18 lead after a 3-pointer from Nell Wentling with 1:58 left in the first half. But Bartlett scored the final 6 points of the second quarter and put itself in position to make a second-half run.
"We got that nice lead and then we let them get back into it too quickly at the end of the first half," said South Elgin coach Tim Prendergast, whose team played without senior starting guard Kara Rodriguez (college visit).
Bartlett used that momentum to take a 30-28 lead early in the third quarter and even though South Elgin was able to regain the advantage at 36-34, the Hawks went on a 9-0 run at the end of the third to gain a 43-36 lead heading to the fourth.
South Elgin had another lead midway through the fourth quarter at 46-45 but Elizabeth Arco's basket with 3:37 to play gave the Hawks the lead for good at 47-46. Senior transfer Alyssa Hernandez then positioned herself perfectly for an offensive rebound off a missed free throw with 2:42 to play to give the Hawks a 49-46 lead. Bartlett outrebounded South Elgin 37-29 on the night/
"It was a team effort," said Johnson. "Our bigs really got the rebounds for us tonight."
A Kennede Miller basket with 1:22 to play brought the Storm to within 49-48 and after 3 missed free throws and 3 turnovers, Johnson hit 2 from the line with 23 seconds left to make it a 51-48 game. South Elgin missed a 3-point attempt on the other end and with 9 seconds to play, Johnson sealed the win with 2 more free throws. Cara Fahey scored at the buzzer for South Elgin for the final margin.
"We made 'em when they counted," said Sarna of the free throws. "We just needed to relax and Ashley finally calmed down. We wanted her on the line and I'm glad she was there."
Hernandez led the Hawks with 16 points and 13 rebounds, while Arco added 10 points and 7 boards. Ally Giampapa scored 9 points and had 5 steals for the Hawks. Bartlett had a good night shooting from the field (18 of 40) but made just 15 of 28 from the line. The Hawks also only turned the ball over 19 times, one less than Sarna's standard to stay under.
"One of the biggest things we've been working on us cutting down our turnovers," said Sarna, whose team was coming off a 47-32 loss to Neuqua Valley on Tuesday. "I thought we did a good job with that tonight and our rebounding is improving. We celebrate the victories when we have good performances and work on the things we still need to work on. After the Neuqua game I wanted to see how we responded in practice and then tonight. We came back strong against a good South Elgin team."
Wentling led South Elgin with 12 points, Miller had a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds and Amanda Behles added 8 points for the Storm.
"I was really disappointed with our offensive execution in the second half. It was awful; there's no other way to explain it," said Prendergast, whose team was just 1-for-13 shooting in the third quarter and 15-for-54 on the night. "Rebounding always hurts us because we're all four-foot-six out there. But at the end of the day we had the ball down by one and we threw it away.
"It's a tough loss but we don't have much time to sulk. We've got Metea coming in Saturday."