A young team grew up a little on the road Thursday night in Aurora.
Down eight points going to the fourth quarter, West Chicago hit a couple long shots early in the quarter to get back into the game, then 7 of its 8 free throws in the final three minutes to win it, 45-43.
Laura Panicall, the lone experienced player for West Chicago (4-13, 2-4), won the game with 2 free throws after getting fouled 20 feet from the basket with 6 seconds left.
West Aurora (8-9, 3-5) had a final chance and got the ball to Alexis Wiggins who had to rush up a shot under pressure from the baseline that didn't hit the rim.
"It's a big win for us," Panicall said. "It's another conference win and the way we all came together is just a great team win for us. We've been working a lot on our defense and we wanted to come out with a lot of intensity and it paid off."
Panicall led both teams with 21 points and 12 rebounds. West Chicago coach Kim Wallner was just encouraged to see her new backcourt of sophomore Mae Elizabeth Gimre and junior Shelly Molskow combine for 18 points.
Molskow missed the first seven weeks of the season with a broken fibula.
"I thought it was a team win, it wasn't just Laura, some other kids stepped up and got a bucket or two or got a key rebound," Wallner said after watching her team outscore West Aurora 19-9 in the fourth quarter. She also was pleased to see her team limit their turnovers to 15 and slow down the Blackhawks' transition game.
"This was an improvement. I thought when the going got tough we kept our poise."
The Blackhawks never trailed in the first half and took a 22-19 lead to the locker room when freshman Carley Frauenhoff swished a corner 3 in the closing seconds.
Third quarters have been a problem for West Chicago lately but the Wildcats quickly took their first lead of the game at 24-22 when Gimre made a 3-point basket followed immediately by a layup from Panicall off a steal.
West Aurora scored the final 7 points of the quarter to lead 34-26 heading to the fourth quarter.
Two key 3s -- the first from Panicall and one from Moskow that she turned into a 4-point play when she was fouled on the shot -- brought the Blackhawks within 34-33. Panicall's drive put the Wildcats up 35-34 with 5:30 remaining, setting up a back-and-forth final quarter with 8 ties or lead changes.
Molly Jordan made 2 free throws to give West Aurora a 36-35 lead only to see Kylee Gunderson answer inside off a perfect feed from Panicall. After a steal and layup from Molskow, Abriya Zeitz finally converted the Blackhawks' first field goal of the quarter to tie the game at 39 with 2:11 left.
West Chicago scored its final 6 points at the free-throw line, the first two from Amanda Gosbeth and the final four by Panicall. Her two with 36.8 seconds left put the Wildcats up 43-41. Liz Skaggs scored on a putback basket to tie the game for the final time at 43 with 20 seconds remaining before an untimely foul put Panicall back on the line for the winning free throws.
While West Chicago hit 7 of 8 at the line, West Aurora shot just 8 for 17 and was just as cold from the field in the fourth quarter making 2 of 11 shots.
"You can't win games like that," West Aurora coach Connie Siljendahl said.
Wiggins, Zeitz and Skaggs all scored 10 points to lead the Blackhawks. Zeitz and Skaggs both grabbed 9 rebounds; Wiggins added 4 assists and 4 steals.
"It's been the story of our year," Siljendahl said. "We just are struggling for leadership for someone to step up and carry us and everybody is just pointing fingers. That's the bottom line. We just need someone to step up and be a leader."
Follow John Lemon on Twitter @jlemonDH