Talk about a triumphant return.
Cleared by her doctor earlier in the day to play after being sidelined for 6 months rehabbing a torn ACL, South Elgin junior guard Savanah Uveges served notice Thursday night she's ready to get back to being her all-area self.
Playing somewhat limited minutes in her first game competition since July 14, Uveges was, well, Uveges when it counted most. She scored 7 of her 11 points and had 2 key rebounds in the fourth quarter as the Storm held off Burlington Central 44-41 in nonconference girls basketball action on Rocket Hill.
"It's really indescribable," said the 5-foot-9 Uveges of being back in action. "I've been out for so long, I feel like half my life was torn away from me. Rehab almost became my new sport. Obviously I can't be myself after being out (nearly 6 months). I wasn't in the groove of things at first. I told my dad (South Elgin assistant John Uveges) at halftime that I wasn't happy with myself. I wanted to be myself before surgery."
By the fourth quarter, she was.
"That's when I felt like myself again," she said. "I just let my instincts take over and hoped for the best."
South Elgin coach Tim Prendergast was quick to acknowledge what Uveges' return means to his team, which moved to 11-9 on the season with the win.
"The one thing I've said all along is that not having Savanah has allowed some other players to play more than they would have if we'd had her. Now, we add Savanah to the mix and we've got more ballhandling and we're more athletic. She's the total package. We knew things would be a struggle without Savanah but now that she's back I'm really looking forward to the rest of the season."
It looked early on like Uveges' return might not make a difference. Burlington Central, playing without ill sophomore center Alison Colby, raced out to an 18-10 lead after one quarter and still led 20-11 early in the second when all of a sudden, things went south for the Rockets. They didn't score again over the final 7:14 of the period, they committed 9 turnovers and by the end of the quarter South Elgin had grabbed a 22-20 lead.
"We played young at times tonight," reasoned BC coach Mark Smith of his freshman-laden team.
"We switched out of our zone to a man and our zone is usually pretty good," said Prendergast. "I'm really impressed with Burlington. They've got some shooters. We knew they were really young but they're going to be putting the hurt on some people the next couple of years."
South Elgin, which could be without senior reserve Amanda Behles for the rest of the season (torn ligaments in an ankle), led 31-24 after 2 free throws from sophomore Cara Fahey with 49 seconds left in the third quarter, but freshman Kayla Ross scored with 5 seconds left and then South Elgin turned the ball over and Ross made a layup at the buzzer to make it a 31-28 game going into the final quarter.
The Rockets (15-4) grabbed a 37-36 lead on a basket from freshman Shelby Holt with 3:32 left in the game. Then it became Uveges time. She gave the Storm the lead for good with a putback with 3:12 left. With 2:01 to play she drove the lane to make it 40-37, then with 1:28 to go, she hit an off-balance runner, was fouled and made the free throw to put South Elgin up 43-37.
"Down the stretch Uveges made some nice plays. She's got some experience and it showed," said Smith, whose team was 17 of 46 shooting and just 4 of 21 from 3-point range and had 21 turnovers. "I felt like we rushed it a few times and you have to have patience and make the defense work. Colby being out hurt some; she's our leading rebounder. But we needed to show more patience."
The Rockets did make a final run at the lead. Ross made 2 free throws with 25 seconds left to make it a 43-39 game and when South Elgin was called for traveling on the inbounds play, BC had a chance. But the Rockets missed 2 shots before they got a dead ball rebound and Samantha Pryor's layup with 9 seconds to play made it 43-41. But Delaney Kelleher made 1 of 2 free throws with 3 seconds to go and the Storm escaped with the win.
Junior Kennede Miller added 8 points for South Elgin, while freshman Nadia Yang had 7 points, 4 assists and 3 steals.
"Our bench did an outstanding job tonight," said Prendergast, whose team hosts Waubonsie Valley tonight in Upstate Eight Valley action. "This was a fun game. First time I've been here, and it was a fun game.
Holt led the Rockets with 15 points. Pryor added 9 and Ross had 8 points and 7 rebounds.
"It's good for us to be in games like this," said Smith. "It's a learning process and a maturation process. No one likes to lose but you learn lessons when you lose and defeat makes you stronger."