The Upstate Eight Conference River Division girls basketball race will likely go down to the wire later this season.
But for now, St. Charles East has the upper hand.
The Saints used a smothering second-half defense, an abnormal performance from Streamwood, and a career-high 23 points from junior Amanda Hilton to beat the Sabres 61-50 at Streamwood Tuesday night.
And all it took was a little halftime pep talk from coach Lori Drumtra to get the Saints going.
"Forty-four (Streamwood's Hannah McGlone) was having her way with us in the first half," said Drumtra, whose team now owns a one-game advantage over Geneva, Streamwood and Batavia in the River. "I kind of challenged them to be more aggressive and we did a much better job in the second half."
A nip-and-tuck first half ended with the Saints (6-5, 4-0) ahead 22-21, and the game remained close with St. Charles East leading 36-34 after Streamwood senior Deja Moore scored 2 of her career-high 25 points with 3:14 left in the third quarter, The Saints closed the quarter on an 8-4 run to take a 44-38 lead into the fourth and extended it to 46-38 -- the biggest lead of the night for either team to that point -- on a basket from senior Carly Pottle in the first minute of the final period.
But Streamwood (8-2, 4-1), which had a six-game winning streak snapped, charged back and got to within 1, 46-45, on a Moore basket with 5:18 to play. But, with 4:37 left, Hilton stepped back and nailed 1 of her 4 3-pointers in the game to make it 49-45. Streamwood hung close and trailed just 51-48 after a Moore free throw with 3:12 to go but again Hilton did the damage, nailing another 3 with 2:41 left that sent the Saints on a 10-0 run and a 61-48 lead with 57 seconds left to play.
"It was really nice, a really good feeling," said Hilton of hitting the 3-pointers. "My teammates helped me out and got me open. This was a really good win for us. It feels real good to be undefeated in the conference. That's one of our goals."
"That was a quiet (23)," said Drumtra. "Amanda's shot was on tonight. That gave us a nice spark."
While Hilton and the Saints had it going offensively in the second half, they also turned up the defense. After allowing 6-foot Streamwood senior Hannah McGlone to score 10 points and grab 6 rebounds in the first half, St. Charles East shut her down in the final 16 minutes, allowing McGlone just 2 free throws and only 3 field goal attempts. She finished with 12 points and 12 rebounds.
"Overall we played really good defense," said Hilton, who added 5 assists. "It's hard coming into their home court. We were able to take away their 3-pointer. They've got one really good shooter and we had a lot of pressure on top."
That really good shooter, Sabres' senior Jessica Cerda, was held to 11 points -- none in the first half -- on 4 of 17 shooting. Streamwood was 22 of 47 for the night, while the Saints shot 24-for-56.
"I'm unhappy with our defense but I'm very unhappy with what we did offensively," said Streamwood coach George Rosner, whose team turned the ball over 25 times. "We had so many unforced turnovers, bad passes and we didn't get the ball inside. We had open looks and we didn't hit them. Jess was out of rhythm and we didn't get the ball to Hannah enough, especially in the second half.
"Defensively they didn't make a post-up basket all night. Everything was either a layup or a 3. We let them do too many easy things with the ball."
Senior Paige Jordan added 13 points, 9 in the third quarter, 7 rebounds and 4 steals for the Saints while Pottle had 10 points. The Saints outrebounded Streamwood 36-25.