Every time St. Charles North looked ready to upset St. Charles East Saturday, Saints junior Amanda Hilton made sure the North Stars didn't.
The Saints needed every one of Hilton's 26 points in their hard-fought 59-55 victory. Her final point capped her 12-for-14 night at the free-throw line and gave the Saints a two-possession lead with 7.8 seconds left.
The North Stars (5-15, 2-6) only led twice in the game, and both times it came when they drained 3-point shots. The first came at 7-5 from Alex Silverman in the first quarter, and the second at 42-40 by Sam Novak early in the fourth quarter.
Both times, on the very next Saint possession, Hilton answered with her own 3 to put her team right back on top. They were her only two 3s of the night as she did the rest of her damage penetrating and getting to the line.
"She's one of the best point guards," said Saints forward Laney Deckrow who scored 10 points of her own and helped match the North Stars' intensity with several hustle plays. "She is a key player for us and did a really god job tonight. She knows how to use the ball and how to pass and strategy too."
Hilton scored 11 of her points in the fourth quarter, giving St. Charles East (12-9, 7-1) a win it needed to move a half-game ahead of Streamwood in the Upstate Eight Conference River Division.
"We got into the swing of things and kept attacking which is good," Hilton said of the Saints' 31 free-throw attempts (North shot 9 for 15). "A lot of people stepped up and made some key free throws so that was good to see."
Despite Hilton's big individual day and 12-of-23 shooting from the field in the first half, the Saints could not shake the North Stars who received several strong performances, too. St. Charles East never led by more than 7 points as Silverman (19 points), sophomore Nicole Davidson (18 points, 7 rebounds) and Novak (10 points) took turns making key shots.
"Anytime we play North it is going to be that way," Saints coach Lori Drumtra said. "It doesn't matter what kind of season either team is having. And they have improved quite a bit. I told (SCN coach) Colleen (Backer) that too. They have come a long way. It was intense, it was just a fun game."
The Saints led 13-10 after the first quarter and 32-25 at halftime, getting a lift from sophomore Katie Claussner with 7 first-half points.
"She was huge," Drumtra said. "She was a good ballhandler. She can take it to the basket, she's a lefty, I feel very comfortable with the ball in her hands, she's very good at the free-throw line. She was a huge spark, and I think that's going to be great for her confidence as well."
The North Stars came out hot in the third quarter with baskets from Davidson and Morgan Rosencrants to quickly get back within 3 points.
"It was the last East rivalry game for a lot of girls so we wanted to win the last one," Silverman said. "We were a little short but we did everything we could. I'm really proud of how we played.
"I think we've improved a lot especially from the East game last time. We came out with a lot more heart and a lot more energy. We wanted it this time really bad."
The North Stars kept chipping away at the lead. Backer inserted Silverman back into the game with 8 seconds left in the third quarter, and the senior rewarded her with a 3-point play with a second to go bringing St. Charles North within 40-39 going to the fourth quarter.
After Novak and Hilton traded 3s to start the fourth, the Saints saw their lead fluctuate between 2 and 7 points over the final seven minutes. After Carly Pottle assisted Deckrow for an easy basket off a perfect out-of-bounds play to make it 53-46, Davidson and Silverman scored to bring the North Stars within 53-50, and they had a chance to get closer but Rosencrants couldn't get her drive to drop with a minute left.
Hilton took the ball the other way and dribbled through multiple defenders for a lay-in and 5-point lead, which combined with her free-throw shooting gave the Saints enough of a cushion even after a Silverman 3 with 17 seconds left.
"I try to block them (the crowd) out as much as possible," Hilton said. "Obviously it's very loud in there but just focus on the basket and me the whole time and try to make it every time."