Some missed free throws late made things a little scary, but in the end Wheaton Academy prevailed Friday night in large part due to a great start.
The Warriors (9-4) played great defense, attacked the offensive glass with a vengeance and built a 32-19 lead on Newark after three quarters of play at the Lisle Holiday Cage Classic. The Norsemen, who won the tourney title in 2012, then rallied to make things close before Wheaton Academy eventually prevailed 44-42.
Newark's late charge was aided by five missed foul shots by the Warriors in the fourth quarter -- including a pair of front ends on bonus situations -- but Wheaton Academy did connect on its final three foul shots in the waning seconds to pull out the win and advance to a semifinal matchup with Coal City on Saturday night.
"I kind of expect that from Newark," Wheaton Academy coach Beth Mitchell said of the strong finish by the Norsemen. "It's a great team, they're very well-coached and they just don't quit. It's fun to have a game like that and have a good finish. Obviously, I'd much rather have us make some free throws down the stretch and not make it so interesting."
The Warriors survived Newark's late charge after their switching defenses helped force 11 turnovers, and they allowed just 11 points while taking a 21-11 lead at the half. The Norsemen (8-5) went more than six minutes before making a field goal and trailed 10-3 after the opening quarter.
"Offensively, we've got to learn to read what defense they're throwing at us, and before we even did that we threw the ball out of bounds," Newark coach Brian Holman said. "It was a defensive adjustment from them, and they caught us off guard."
Friday was not one of the Warriors' best shooting nights, but their strong defense and rebounding more than made up for it. Elizabeth Melby and Christina Garrison were big on the boards as the team totaled 21 offensive rebounds.
Melby had a big all-around game with 10 points, 13 rebounds and 3 steals. The 6-foot-3 Garrison had 7 points and 11 boards.
"Coach had a really good talk with us about rebounding in the locker room and we were pretty motivated," Melby said of Mitchell's pregame talk. "It wasn't our best free-throw game, but we pushed through to the end and came out with the W, which is great."
Melby also likes the way the team's defense has improved in recent weeks. Guard Abigail Olson came away with 5 steals as the Warrior defense was stellar for three-plus quarters onFriday.
"We had a good defensive start and I thought that we continued to play well on the defensive side. I think we're going to keep it up like this…we switch the defense up a lot and sometimes it kind of frazzles the other team," Melby said.
Kristine Zitt led Newark with 12 points, but reserve Lindsey Larson sparked the team late and finished with 9 points -- all in the second half -- and 9 rebounds. Marrisa Gagliano had 7 points and 2 steals for the Warriors, and it was her two free throws with 6.4 seconds remaining that made the score 44-40 and proved to be the winning points after Newark's Rachael Lape made a pair of foul shots with no time left on the clock.