Carmel Catholic's little-but-tough Sam Melillo found herself in a tough spot Saturday.
She lay on the basketball court shaken and woozy after getting knocked in the head as a result of a collision with a Benet Academy player. After several minutes, the 5-foot-1 backup point guard was helped to the sideline and missed the remaining 5:15 of the East Suburban Catholic Conference opener in Mundelein.
"I ran into her shoulder," Melillo said. "It wasn't on purpose. It was just a physical play."
Carmel found itself in a tough spot, too.
The Corsairs were in the midst of squandering a 10-point fourth-quarter advantage when Melillo crashed to the floor. But they outscored the visiting Redwings 6-2 down the stretch to pull out a 49-46 win.
"That was a big win for us," said forward Emma Rappe, who was one of three Corsairs in double figures. Kathleen Felicelli (9-of-10 foul shooting) had 11 points, while Rappe and Cassidy Kloss each chipped in 10. Leah Lach added 9.
Carmel improved to 7-1, while dropping Benet to 6-3.
"They grind it out, and they set good screens," Redwings coach Peter Paul said of the Corsairs. "I think we got to play better defense. It took us a while to play better 'D.' I got to give credit to (Carmel). They took it to us."
It was the third straight win over Benet for Carmel, which netted the final eight points of the third quarter after the score was tied 31-31. Melillo's 2 free throws had the hosts up 39-31 entering the fourth.
"Sam's like a little lightning bolt out there," Rappe said of the fellow junior, who's a first-year varsity player. "She's going to be a big help for us this year."
Four straight points by sophomore backup center Emily Casale stretched the Carmel lead to 43-33 -- the largest for either team all day -- with 6:48 left in the fourth. But Benet remained unfazed, reeling off 11 straight points.
It was during the run that, while playing defense near the Carmel basket, Melillo went down hard.
"In practice (on Thursday) I got hit in the head, and then I just made it worse by getting hit again (in the same spot)," Melillo said.
With the pesky Melillo out, Benet continued to chip away at its deficit, led by Emily Schramek (8 rebounds) and Eden Olson (6 rebounds), each of whom scored 13 points. Schramek's 2 free throws started the run, and her pair with 2:30 left put the Redwings ahead 44-43. Olson had 5 points and 3 offensive rebounds during the flurry.
"We got a lot of offensive rebounds, which is something we haven't had," Paul said. "I thought Eden played exceptionally well."
"I think we got tight," Carmel coach Kelly Perz said. "I think we started to play to not lose, instead of play to win. This is a big rivalry for us. It's become that over the last two years. Prior to that, we never had a shot at beating Benet."
Benet made just 17 of 50 shots (34 percent). Coming off a 29-point effort against Hinsdale Central on Thursday, junior guard Emily Eshoo struggled from the floor and then picked up her third foul in the third quarter and sat. She finished with just 2 points but wasn't the only Redwing who couldn't consistently find the bottom of the net.
"We couldn't buy a basket today," Paul said. "We shot from the three-point line, which is our bread and butter, and we couldn't hit."
Carmel regained the lead at 45-44 when Rappe fed Lach for a layup with 2:13 to go. Trailing 47-46, Benet had a chance to take the lead, but Felicelli came up with a steal with 13 seconds left, and her 2 free throws with 8 seconds on the clock provided the final margin. A last-second shot by Benet was off the mark.
"I think we thought we had it (leading 43-33)," Rappe said. "We had a few passes that weren't very good, but we just had to come to back and lock it down."