Best in the conference, best in Wheaton.
Wheaton Warrenville South left little doubt of both.
The No. 4 Tigers turned a close game for two-plus quarters into a blowout, pulling away to beat No. 7 Wheaton North 64-41 to wrap up a perfect 14-0 DuPage Valley Conference season.
WW South (25-3, 14-0), which split the conference title with Naperville Central the last two years, went unbeaten in the DVC for the first time since 1997. It also beat Wheaton North (20-7, 12-2) for the seventh straight time.
"It's what the kids wanted. I'm at a loss for words at what the kids have done this year," said Tigers coach Rob Kroehnke, whose team is 24-1 over its last 25 games despite losing two starters to torn ACLs. "We took their best shot in the third quarter, took a deep breath and were fine."
The final score doesn't indicate it, but this game was much more competitive than the teams' first meeting, a 57-42 Tigers win at Wheaton North Jan. 12.
WW South led 34-23 at half, but Wheaton North drew within 6 points on five occasions in the third quarter. The last time came on Mandy Traversa's basket with 2:29 left to make it 42-36, but the Tigers answered with a Kelly Langlas 3-pointer.
WW South all but put it away with a 10-0 run to start the fourth quarter, a Diamond Thompson basket starting things and a pair of Meghan Waldron free throws capping it off.
"I think this has been the toughest year because everybody knows who we are now," said Waldron, recently committed to DePaul, who had 18 points, 8 rebounds and 5 assists. "Every game has been tough, and with the injuries I don't even know who's in our starting lineup before a game. We did well tonight, but we can still play better."
Wheaton North, its defense improved of late, just couldn't get a stop when it needed it. WW South shot 50 percent from the floor the last three quarters, and the Falcons scored just 5 points over the last 10-plus minutes.
"We were exchanging buckets a little too much in that third quarter," Falcons coach Dave Eaton said.
The Falcons had won seven straight games since the first WW South loss, reaching 20 wins for what Eaton believed to be the first time since 1997. Two stats hurt them greatly.
The Falcons, a 67 percent free-throw shooting team coming in, made just 2 of 14, 1 of 10 in the first half. And Wheaton North gave up 22 offensive rebounds, Melinda Franke and Allie Zappia pulling down 5 each in the first quarter alone. An offensive rebound led to an Olivia Linebarger jumper to beat the halftime buzzer up 11.
"It's just the effort. We're taught to never let up," said Zappia, one of eight seniors honored on Senior Night. "This means the world. We really didn't want to share the conference title this year."
Langlas scored 11 points, Thompson 10 points and Franke had 7 points and 16 rebounds -- all while chasing Wheaton North's Traversa for four quarters and limiting the Falcons' top scorer to 9 shot attempts. Traversa finished with 13 points and Reilly Stewart 9 for Wheaton North, which could get a third crack at WW South in the final of the upcoming Class 4A Bartlett sectional.
"I thought we played a little too nervous because the kids knew what was at stake," Eaton said. "We're better than that. Definitely better than the last time we played them. Hopefully we'll get to play them again and see what happens."
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