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Naperville Central coach Andy Nussbaum always expects his teams to win, and they have done so more than 500 times in his 25 years of coaching.
But Friday night's season opener against Providence Catholic was not one of those times, as the Celtics (2-0) pulled out a down-to-the-wire 62-57 victory in first-round action of the Tip-Off Tournament in Naperville.
While Nussbaum would liked to have won the contest, he wasn't too upset as the inexperienced Redhawks (0-1) showed plenty of fight and managed to knock down nine 3-pointers to stay in the game.
"I told the girls that was really more like a midseason game. That's not your typical opening game," Nussbaum said of the tight contest that featured several lead changes. "For an opening game I'd have to say I was pleased with the way we played."
The Celtics, who earlier in the week opened their season with a win over Downers Grove South, received a big spark when Taylor Juricek came off the bench and connected on a trio of 3-pointers that helped the Celtics lead 20-15 after one quarter. But Providence then shot 1 of 15 in the second quarter, and the Redhawks led 29-25 at the half as Emily Kraft tallied 10 of her team-leading 18 points in the first two quarters.
It was 43-42 Providence after three quarters, but in the end the Celtics and Alyssa Jurges proved just too much for the young Redhawks. Jurges led all scorers with 26 points, including 17 in the second half when the junior guard was 12 of 13 from the foul line on Friday and added a pair of 3-pointers.
"They've gotten us more than we've gotten them over the year so this is good for our program," Providence coach Eileen Copenhaver said. "It was a fun game to be on the winning side."
Kraft and Shannon Ryan -- the lone Redhawks with any significant varsity experience heading into the season -- combined for 30 points on the night, with Kraft dropping down three 3s and Ryan adding a pair of long-range shots. Kraft expects Naperville Central to grow up quickly.
"It was a good opener for our come-together as a team," Kraft said. "Even though we didn't get the win, this game showed us what we need to work on and what we have to grow from."
There were a number of highlights for varsity newcomers as forward Haley Minick blocked three Celtic shots, Katie Moran had 7 points, including a timely 3-pointer in the third quarter that gave the Redhawks a 35-34 lead, and Kotryna Staputyte came off the bench to deliver some strong rebounding.
"Again, I would say independent of the scoreboard, I was pleased," said Nussbaum, whose squad takes on Metea Valley in Saturday's tourney play. "Now these girls know what to expect. They know what it's like to be in a close varsity game."
In Friday's earlier game at Naperville Central, Metea Valley defeated Oswego East 51-43.