After a furious rally trimmed a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit to 45-42 Friday night, Streamwood needed St. Charles North's Morgan Rosencrants to miss the front end of a 1-and-1 for a chance at a game-tying 3-pointer.
As Rosencrants stepped to the free-throw line with 3.3 seconds remaining, she repeated one word over and over in her head.
"Breathe!" the sophomore forward joked afterwards.
Rosencrants' simple instruction to herself worked wonders. She calmly buried her first free throw, helping the North Stars preserve a 46-42 victory in the teams' Upstate Eight Conference Red Division opener in St. Charles.
"I've been off on my free throws lately," Rosencrants said, "but it felt good to make one for the team tonight when we needed it."
St. Charles North (2-4 overall, 1-0 UEC River) didn't expect to be in such a nail-biting scenario after carving out leads of 29-12 at halftime and 39-25 through three quarters. Trailing 8-7 early, the North Stars used suffocating pressure defense and crisp execution on offense to go on a 22-4 run the rest of the opening half.
St. Charles North limited the Sabres (1-5, 0-1) to 6-for-27 shooting (22.2 percent) in the first two quarters and held the visitors to just one basket in the second quarter. Streamwood particularly struggled offensively after senior center Hannah McGlone, who will play for Division I Winona State next year, had to sit out the final 2:33 of the half when she picked up her third foul. The North Stars responded with a 9-0 spurt capped by a step-back 3-pointer from forward Nichole Davidson just before the halftime buzzer.
"I thought we played a great first half," said first-year coach Sean Masoncup about his home debut as a varsity coach. "We played outstanding defense, attacked the basket and really took it to them. Our defense was excellent. We were staying in our defensive stance, moving our feet, talking to each other and maintaining great positioning on the floor."
St. Charles North rode the hot hand of Davidson throughout the first half. The junior outscored Streamwood by herself, pouring in 15 points on 6-for-9 shooting and a pair of free throws while snagging five rebounds. She finished with a double-double of 17 points and 10 boards along with three steals.
"She's an amazing player," Rosencrants said. "She plays with so much hustle and heart. When she's shooting like that, the post opens up for us to get the ball inside, too."
The North Stars maintained a double-digit lead until Streamwood grabbed the momentum in the fourth quarter. After being held to just seven points apiece through three quarters, the Sabres' dangerous senior duo of forward Holly Foret and McGlone combined for 14 points down the stretch. Foret's breakaway layup off a steal by freshman center Jenejha Williams brought Streamwood within 45-39 with: 35 left. After a St. Charles turnover, McGlone converted a three-point play to inch the Sabres within 45-42 with: 10 remaining before Rosencrants' free throw salted the game.
"We didn't give up or quit after a horrible second quarter," Streamwood coach George Rosner said. "We dug ourselves a huge hole, but we played good defense in the third and fourth quarters, and Hannah and Holly did the brunt of our scoring for us down the stretch. We need more girls to step up and help on offense."
Masoncup said his youthful squad, which starts two sophomores and three juniors, will learn from its second-half letdown.
"I'm not sure if it was a case of taking the foot off the gas pedal after building a 17-point lead or just starting to think about St. Charles East tomorrow," said Masoncup, referring to the North Stars' home game at 4:30 p.m. Saturday with their crosstown rival. "It's a learning experience for a very young team."
Masoncup liked how the North Stars performed Friday following a difficult foray through the York Thanksgiving Tournament to tip off the season. St. Charles went 1-4 at York, losing three games by 19 or more points to a challenging field, including two teams ranked in the top 20 in area polls.
"That tournament was brutally tough," Masoncup said. "But the girls responded well tonight. And they beat a good team that made it to the sectional final last year and is led by a great coach, one of the best coaches in the area. They showed a lot of character and resolve. I think they're starting to believe in themselves and each other more and seeing what kind of team they can become if they keep getting better and keep striving to play hard all the time."