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If you are a Mid-Suburban League girls basketball fan, one of the last teams you saw last season was Loyola when the Ramblers edged Cinderella squad Wheeling in the Stevenson supersectional.
The Ramblers were back in the area on Monday night playing at Fremd and once again they pulled out a close one, 46-43 against a powerful MSL team.
The Ramblers (15-5) held Fremd to 2 points in the final 9:27 of the first half and built an 8-point lead with 6:05 left in the game.
But the Vikings (18-5) made a nifty comeback.
Senior Bernie Williams grabbed a rebound and went coast-to-coast for layup to start a 14-3 run.
The Vikes pulled into the lead when McConnell fired home a 3-pointer to make it 39-38.
Freshman Brianna Lewis followed with a driving layup off a nice fake to make it 41-38 with 2:06 left in the game.
But the Ramblers wiped out that lead when junior Maggie Nick drove for a bank shot with 26.4 seconds left and senior Anna Schueler added 2 free throws with 22.9 seconds to make it 44-43.
Nick capped the scoring with a pair of free throws with 12.8 seconds left and Fremd missed a 3-pointer with two seconds left to give Loyola its ninth straight win.
McConnell finished with game-high 20 points (3 3-pointers) and 6 rebounds while Williams had 11 points, including a big 3-pointer in the third quarter.
"Being down 8 points, it was nice to come back," said Fremd coach Dave Yates, whose team visits Barrington on Friday in a key MSL West match. "Bernie hit some big shots and obviously Ashley had that big 3 to give us the lead. But we have to figure out a way to ride that.
"When we were down by 1 point (44-43), we drew up a play that we've run 500 times but we just didn't execute."
Loyola's execution down the stretch saved the win.
"Maggie and Annie had those big free throws at the end," said Ramblers coach Jeremy Schoenecker. "We talk to the girls all the time that you have to knock those down in close games and they came up big."
Nick finished with 15 points, including 1 of the Ramblers' 5 3-pointers.
"Their defense is built a lot the way ours is," Nick said. "That's why we had trouble with screens and things. They are a good team and well coached.
"The biggest thing for us was that every single person who stepped on the floor contributed. We just dug down and that's what won the game for us."
Fremd had won 13 of its last 15 games.
"This was a nonconference against a team that has good players and is well-coached," Yates said. "To be able to play a team like that on a Monday night is only going to make you better."
Things might have been better for Fremd had its shooting percentage been a little higher. The Vikes were 15-of-47 from the floor.
"We talked at halftime about making layups," Yates said. "I lost track of how many shots that we couldn't put in the basket. It seemed like we struggled offensively all evening, but they played good defense.
"We didn't do the things we needed to do to win. They out-executed us the last three possessions and they stuck their free throws."
Sophomore Haley Gorecki, who led the Vikes with 8 rebounds, chipped in 6 points while Lewis added 4.
The freshman's first 2 points came in the first quarter when her 2 free throws gave Fremd a 7-5 lead with 3:35 left.
McConnell's 16-footer and driving layup with 1:29 left gave the Vikes an 11-7 lead after one quarter.
But Fremd's next basket didn't come until Erica Simios sank a 17-footer from the right side with 47 seconds left in the first half, getting Fremd to within 16-13 at intermission.
The Vikings pulled into a tie early in third quarter after a driving layup by Williams and free throw by McConnell made it 16-16.
But Loyola took control again with a 17-footer by Egan Berne and 3-pointer by Mary Kate Herion, who had two in the game.
"We kept telling each other, 'We need to win this game,' " Nick said. "We had to drive to the basket when our shots weren't falling."
Things have fallen nicely for Loyola in its nine-game winning streaks, with other wins over Trinity, Carmel and Stevenson.
"We're playing well at the right time." said Schoenecker, whose team is 5-0 in the Girls Catholic Conference Red Division.