New Rosary coach Jessie Wilcox got a chance to honor her first class of seniors Wednesday night in front of a packed gym against archrival Aurora Central Catholic.
Maddy Hemmerich, Madison Richmond, Amy Seraphin, Karly Tate and Mary Wentworth plus senior manager Kianna Musaraca went out with a win, erasing an early 8-point Chargers lead for a 44-38 victory that clinched third place in the Suburban Christian Conference Blue Division.
It's a senior class that will always hold a soft spot for Wilcox.
"These seniors have been the glue to our team," Wilcox said. "Coming in as a new coach they could have shook their heads and walked the other way because they are used to how they've been taught in the past. But honestly every one of those seniors has stepped up and accepted my challenge and ran with it."
With Aurora Central Catholic (12-12, 2-8) doing a good job defensively against two of the Royals' main options Tate (5 points, 11 rebounds, 2 steals) and Richmond (6 points), Rosary found firepower in other places.
Sophomore Quincy Kellett led the way with 13 points and Rachel Choice chipped in 10.
"For them to rise to the occasion and have the confidence like that is amazing," Wilcox said. "This is truly a team win. It's good for this team. We've come a long ways."
Kellett scored her team-high total despite sitting out the third quarter in foul trouble.
"Coach just kept saying when I was sitting on the bench keep your head in this, keep your head in this because I'd be going back in the fourth quarter so I just kept focusing on the game," Kellett said.
Rosary (13-11, 6-4) opened the scoring on a Kellett 3-pointer. The Chargers responded with a 10-0 run highlighted by 5 points from Lisa Rodriguez to lead the rest of the first half.
But while both teams struggled at 5-for-24 shooting clips from the field, the Royals did take a little momentum into the half by scoring the final 7 points of the second quarter to trim ACC's biggest lead at 14-6 to 14-13 at halftime.
Megan Conlin quickly put the Royals ahead in the third quarter on a cut through the lane and perfect feed from Tate. Back-to-back steals and transition layups from Kalie Soris and Rodriguez restored a 22-18 Chargers lead only to see the Royals score 6 straight capped by Wentowrth's layup that gave Rosary the lead for good at 24-22.
Rosary led 30-27 after three quarters. Three times the Chargers got within a point in the fourth, the second time at 34-33 when Rodriguez sliced through lane for a basket with two minutes left.
Rodriguez made a pair of free throws to answer a Choice bucket and keep Central within 36-35 with 1:39 remaining.
Then came the two plays of the game, back-to-back hustle plays by the Royals. Kellett made the first, coming away with the ball after a wild scramble off three Rosary misses for a putback to make it a 39-35 lead. Conlin had the next, rebounding her own missed free throw and assisting Choice for short jumper to seal the outcome at 41-35 with 30 seconds to go.
"The ball just didn't drop and funny, crazy bounces happen and it goes right to them and they get a layup," Chargers coach Mark Fitzgerald said. "Those things happen. My kids fought to the very end. Once again our youth hurt us in certain spots but that's to take nothing away from Rosary."
Tate's effort led Rosary to a 36-29 rebounding advantage.
"They hit the boards harder than we did," Fitzgerald said. "That has been a problem for us this year and it's something we just have to get better at."
Soris led all scorers with 15 points and Rodriguez added 14 for the Chargers who close the regular season against Class 1A power Newark Saturday and Sycamore for Senior Night next Tuesday.
"Tough one but there's a lot of talent in that program of ours," Fitzgerald said. "We're going to come on, just watch."
Wilcox is just as excited about where things are going for her new program.
"When I think back to June when I first got hired this was a rebuilding season," Wilcox said. "We've taken a team that got beat by these guys twice last year and we've really grown and are playing our best basketball right now and that's all you can ask for going into the postseason."