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Bernie Williams was impressed by the scrappiness and determination of the Conant girls basketball team on Thursday night.
"They never stop believing," said the Fremd senior forward.
But the Vikings believe they can contend for a fourth straight Mid-Suburban West crown, and that's exactly what they showed in the final 12 minutes.
A 3-pointer by Cougars sophomore Lexi Zades gave Conant its first lead of the game, 22-20, with 5:35 left in the third quarter.
But Williams, who battled inside for a game-high 12 points, answered with a layup off an assist from Ashley McConnell (10 points) and the Vikings went on a 14-4 tear before finishing with a 44-34 West victory.
"Bernie had a nice game," said Fremd coach Dave Yates, who will direct his team (8-2, 2-1) in three games this weekend in the Sterling Shootout. "She gave us some real good minutes."
The final minutes of the first half belonged to Conant (3-8, 0-3), which finished on a 7-2 run.
The visitors got to within 18-15 at the break when sophomore Haley Anderson made a steal and converted a layup at the end of the possession with three seconds left.
"Everyone played hard," said Conant coach Dan Travers. "It was a team effort. Katie Lomas was all over the floor. Sydney O'Keeffe was taking charges some and Lexi was stepping up.
"Fremd is such a well-coached and disciplined team. They are going to get everyone's best game, and that's tough."
After getting Conant's best, Fremd proved tough at the end.
"We just needed to get off to a better start," said Williams, who scored half of Fremd's 12 points in the first quarter. "We have to be there mentally all the time, not just in the second half. Part of that is leadership.
"At least we come right back and play (today, at 7:45 p.m. against host Sterling)."
After Williams' bucket tied the game at 22-22. a steal and layup by junior Hannah LaBarge (8 points) put Fremd back ahead.
Conant tied it again at 24 when Zades made 2 free throws, but Marilyn Lortz (6 points) gave the Vikes the lead for good.
The 5-foot-10 senior forward hit a layup off a pass from freshman Brianna Lewis to trigger a 10-2 run. LaBarge, McConnell, Catherine Ernst (6 points) and Williams had the next 4 baskets.
"We have to take care of the ball better," Yates said. "When we do that, it seems to get our offense going. We were our own worst enemy in the first 20 minutes."
Lomas led Conant with 9 points while O'Keeffe and Zades each had 5. Lilly Chavarria (4 points) had a big baseline drive for a lay in which got Conant to within 20-19 before Zades' big 3-pointer got the 22-20 lead.
"I thought Dan's kids played real hard," Yates said "They did a really nice job hanging around. But I won't lie. I expected more from our kids."
The Vikes will play three more games in the next 48 hours while Conant resumes action a week from today hosting Schaumburg.
"We've got to go back to practice and work on the little things that can get us some points," Travers said. "We had too many turnovers and Fremd is so sound defensively.
"We hang our hat on defense, too. We want to be like them (Fremd). They had won 25 in a row in the MSL West (until a loss to Palatine in its opener). We want to be where they're at. We are working on that."