The road back into the Aurora Central Catholic lineup hasn't been easy for Lisa Rodriguez, and understandably so.
Rodriguez, the lone returning starter from the Chargers' Class 2A state team last year, was in the middle of a strong senior season before taking a terrible fall last month at the Oswego Holiday Classic.
Taking the ball up court in transition against East Aurora, Rodriguez got her feet tangled with another player and crashed to the floor, landing on her right temple. She needed five stitches to stop the bleeding and also suffered a concussion.
Aurora Central improved its record to 8-6 after beating East Aurora in that game Dec. 29 to take fifth place as the smallest school in the 16-team tournament. But the Chargers had not won in their four games since with Rodriguez sitting out three of them.
Rodriguez and the Chargers got back in the win column Wednesday, beating CICS Ellison 71-46 in a nonconference game in Aurora.
"It's so good being back on the court and playing with my team. Step by step I'm taking it," said Rodriguez, acknowledging the difficulty in regaining her confidence.
"It's frustrating trying to get back in. The thought of being hit in the head again is very scary for me. I'm easing back in slowly but surely. It's frustrating not hitting those shots I usually hit, doing what I usually do. It's been kind of a game-changer for me to be more careful and still contribute to the team."
Rodriguez averaged 7.5 points a game last year for the 25-6 Chargers, and she had upped that average to 11.7 this season before the injury.
While not making all the shots she normally does Wednesday, Rodriguez did score 10 points. Alex Horton led the balanced Chargers with 11 points.
"Seeing the blood I was terrified and I've been terrified ever since," Rodriguez said. "Trying to get up the courage and mental strength and mentality to get back out there and do what I usually do, it's hard. But I know it's my senior year and I want to honor my coach and honor my team and play as hard as I can. Sitting on the bench, I had that urge to go back out there."
The 71 points were a season-high for the Chargers, passing 69 against Plainfield Central. They got there on a stickback from Anna Velazquez in the final minute just seconds after a perfect feed from Velazquez to Maggie O'Brien for a lay-in.
"I'm just glad to see smiles back on my girls' faces," Chargers coach Mark Fitzgerald said. "We've had a little bad stretch here and they started to get their mo-jo going a little bit tonight. I think the best thing was when they (the Lions) started making a run the girls had enough confidence to fight back and add to the lead."
The Lions played their best basketball in the second quarter, using an 11-0 surge to pull within 22-20. ACC went back up 33-24 at halftime.
Aurora Central (9-10) pulled away from Ellison (13-8) late in the third quarter. With the Chargers leading 43-35, Ellison lost its leading scorer and rebounder Ashley Crockett (12 points, 14 rebounds) to a twisted ankle.
The Chargers scored 17 unanswered points spanning the end of the third and start of the fourth to make it a 60-35 cushion.
"That changed the whole momentum of the game for us," Ellison coach Tony Henderson said. "Trying to get back in transition, we couldn't hit shots and we were getting outrebounded at that point when we lost her. It was just downhill."
Chargers sophomore Natalie Droeske started the 17-0 run with a free throw and later scored 6 straight points to end the third quarter. O'Brien added 6 points in the stretch and both drew praise from Fitzgerald afterward.
"Natalie played real well tonight," Fitzgerald said. "Alex Horton is getting better and better every game. Maggie is undersized but she fights in there. She's certainly going to see more playing time."
The Chargers return to action Friday against No. 1 Montini glad to have the four-game losing streak behind them.
"It's a work in progress is all I can say," Fitzgerald said. "The good news is these kids are getting valuable varsity experience which is good for us the rest of this year and the next two years."