It was almost a perfect game.
Visiting Vernon Hills had splendid performances from Sydney Smith (25 points, 13 rebounds) and Kasey Firnbach (14 points).
Grayslake Central countered with Morgan Dahlstrom (20 points), Carson Sparkman (18 points) and Lauren Spalding (16 points).
And to top it all off, there was the comeback of injured Vernon Hills standout Lauren Webb. She showed no rust in her first game back.
Until, that is, the talented senior was injured again. In better news, through some help from Central trainer Glen Gerdes, Webb was able to put her shoe back on before the game ended.
Vernon Hills (7-1) opened up an 18-11 first quarter lead only to have the Rams come back at them. It went down to the final seconds. Firnbach dropped in the game-winner from 10 feet away as the Cougars edged the Rams 66-65.
"It was an amazing game,'' Firnbach said. "My teammates helped me and set a screen for me."
Maybe it wouldn't have been this close if an earlier Firnbach sure shot somehow bounced out at the one-minute mark. It was stunning that the ball didn't drop in.
"That one was in the bin,'' Firnbach said. "But I knew our team would pull through."
Firnbach was called into a prominent role after Webb re-injured herself as the second half started. It looked like the old Webb was back in the first half. In the second quarter, she scored 9 consecutive points for the Cougars and finished with 11 points in the first half.
"She played amazing,'' Firnbach said. "She pushes everybody on the team. She's really a good influence. I hate to see her hurt. We hope to get her back."
As Smith and Webb dominated the early action, the Rams (7-3) mounted a second-quarter comeback highlighted by drives to the hoop by Sparkman.
"We were all looking forward to this game,'' Sparkman said. "It was very exciting the entire game."
With her ability to get to basket, Sparkman is clearly a fun player to watch.
"I try to keep the intensity up,'' Sparkman said. "I really like to drive."
Dahlstrom clearly battled for her team. She was guarded by Webb in the early going.
"It was great to see her back,'' Dahlstrom said. "She did great."
The Rams held a 33-31 lead at halftime, and despite losing Webb for the rest of the game, the Cougars opened the second half on an 8-0 run. Smith had 6 of those points. Dahlstrom's turnaround shot stopped the Vernon Hills run and Spalding (5 3-pointers) landed a trey cutting the Cougars lead to 39-38.
Sparkman opened the fourth quarter with 4 consecutive points as Central reclaimed the lead.
"We played them last year and we opened up a 10, 12-point lead,'' said Vernon Hills coach Paul Brettner. "And they came back at us. Coach (Steve) Ikenn has them playing great defense and they were hitting their shots."
The Rams had one last shot to win the game at the buzzer but a shot from the corner missed the mark.