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The only other time in her varsity girls basketball career that Huntley senior Haley Ream had a chance to tie or win a game with a 3-pointer, last season against Dundee-Crown, she missed and the Red Raiders lost.
Wednesday night, Ream was nothing but net.
Ream took a kick-out pass from Sam Andrews and buried a 3-pointer with 3 seconds left in regulation that tied the Red Raiders' battle with Crystal Lake South at Gator Alley in Crystal Lake and sent the game to overtime.
And in two extra sessions, Huntley staved off defeat again -- not once, but twice. Eventually, 2 free throws from freshman Ali Andrews with 15 seconds left in the second OT held up and after 40 minutes of postseason-like intensity, the Red Raiders escaped Crystal Lake with an exhilarating 54-52 win.
Ali Andrews poured in 28 points and had 12 rebounds to lead Huntley (18-4, 8-1), which stayed tied with Cary-Grove atop the Fox Valley Conference Valley Division standings. Provided Huntley wins its next two league games (against Jacobs and Dundee-Crown) and Cary-Grove wins its next two (versus McHenry and Jacobs), the conference championship will be on the line Feb. 2 when the Raiders visit Elroy Fitzgerald Gymnasium in Cary.
"The first (play) was for Sam but if we couldn't get anything off that then she just kicks it out to me," said Ream, who finished with 9 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists. "It just worked out. I knew what I had to do. I was hoping it was going in. I was praying it was going in."
The tie took what seemed like a lifetime for the Red Raiders to achieve. Leading 20-11 after one quarter, Huntley scored just 4 points in the second quarter and fell behind 25-24 by halftime. The Raiders took a 26-25 advantage on a Haley Barreto basket with 5:52 left in the third but Sara Mickow's hoop gave the Gators a 27-26 lead at the 4:39 mark and South (17-6, 5-3) never gave up the lead until an Ali Andrews free throw with 1:04 left in the first overtime put Huntley ahead 47-46.
"I thought we came out and had a strong first quarter and then, give South credit, they really hit us in the mouth in the second quarter and we didn't respond," said Huntley coach Steve Raethz. "But give our kids credit. They showed a lot of resiliency tonight. Haley Ream really stepped up hitting that big 3. She's an outstanding basketball player and she can be an offensive threat when she wants to be. It was nice to see her step up and do that."
South took a 49-47 lead on Carly Nolan's free throw with 13 seconds left in the first overtime but Ali Andrews' turnaround in the lane with 2 ticks left on the clock tied the game and sent it to a second 4-minute OT period. The Gators again grabbed the lead, 52-51 on a banked-in 3-pointer from senior Stephanie Oros with 1:41 left but Bethany Zornow tied it for the Red Raiders by making 1 of 2 free throws with 44 seconds to go. Zornow missed the second free throw and the dead ball rebound out of bounds went to Huntley. The Raiders worked the clock and with 15 seconds to go Ali Andrews was fouled. She made both free throws and South's final attempts to tie the game were off the mark.
"We saw in their eyes that they really wanted it in the overtimes," said Raethz. "I wish they had done that for four quarters. But you have to give both teams a lot of credit. This was really a hard-fought game."
Ream and her teammates knew how important the game was if they wanted a chance to dethrone 3-time defending Valley champ Cary-Grove.
"We really needed this game," she said. "We had a great first quarter and then we let it slip away but I never felt we were going to lose."
Sam Andrews added 11 points for Huntley, which was 20-for-54 shooting and overcame 27 turnovers as both teams employed tenacious ball-pressure defense. Junior Rachel Rasmussen led the Gators with 18 points, while Oros and Mickow (14 rebounds) each had 11. South went 13 of 23 from the free-throw line, the one stat that will haunt the Gators.
"Our kids stepped up to the challenge and played their hearts out," said CL South coach Kyle McCaughn, whose team lost to Huntley by 24 points earlier in the season. "We got hit in the chops and we answered. We played as well as we can against a very talented team. I really felt we matched them with the intensity and the desire to win. That was fun basketball. Steve and I just talked about that being why we do what we do."